Archive for the ‘essay’ Category

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Check out the Sutra Journal

January 20, 2016

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Here is a suggestion to check out the Sutra Journal. It is an online, curated journal on art, culture and dharma. They just published one of my articles: ALCHEMY AND THE HERMETIC TRADITION: Mircea Eliade and Carl Jung, and have many more interesting and diverse pieces to read. New editions are released monthly, so add it to your bookmarks!

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“Making a Murderer”: Authoring Fear through Authority

December 28, 2015

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Using authorship in a position of authority without transparency is an abuse of power. Authorship allows for the author of a narrative to have creative autonomy, or freedom. Often associated with the idea of the author who writes a book, the concept of authorship is founded on the idea of the author being in complete control of the world of the text, a pseudo-deity of their tempestuous landscapes. While the author is an authority of their work, not all authorities are authors. An authority is invested with power through the consent of a group. Whether the group is led by the matriarch of a family, a minister of religious affiliation, or the president of a country, authority acknowledges that an individual has the power to make decisions, often to lead and to enforce boundaries. Ideally authority is given through a process of democratic consent, however it also has historically been obtained through consent bullied through violence and/or intimidation.

When authorship is knowingly wielded by authorities to create narratives with the intention of manipulation there is cause to fear. This may be done through creating a narrative that appeals to logical fallacies, such as by eliciting strong emotional responses that trump logical analysis, appealing to vanity, de-contextualizing experiences to distort truth, or by assuming the moral (and/or intellectual) high ground. On a large scale this is the foundation of propaganda. For a time, the aesthetic beauty of Leni Riefenstahl films of Nazi Germany inspired positive emotional responses to the Third Reich with the outright intention of deflating the less aesthetically appealing logical opposition[Political Rites: Initiating Art]. While political propaganda is one of the most historically acknowledged ways that authority may abuse authorship, it is present in all layers of society.

Most recently, the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer is a clear example of how the abuse of authorship by an authority may have dire consequences on both the individual and societal levels. Released in December 2015, this series follows the legal struggles of Steven Avery over a thirty-year time period. The documentary was created by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos and must be questioned in itself as a piece of authorship. However, prior to those concerns, the case of Steven Avery as presented by this documentary reveals how many people in authority struggle with imposing authority in authoring events due to feelings of morality, vengeance, superiority, and hate.

Everyone knows that ideologically a lawyer fights for the truth, but practically a lawyer’s job is to create narratives using evidence. In criminal cases, the defense must show that the defendant is innocent either through proving their inability to commit the crime, or by someone else’s guilt. The prosecution must create a narrative that is irrefutably more convincing, responding to these assertions of innocence, and offering proof clear proof of the defendant’s culpability. The narratives that both sides create do not represent the 100% truth of the situation, however they pull on concrete evidence and testimonies. Authenticity of evidence is both objective and subjective and is weighed by jury and judge.

In the history of Steven Avery, the audience witnesses, not once, but twice the manipulation of evidence through abuse of authority to convict him of crimes. In the first instance, he was accused of the attempted rape and brutalization of a local woman and was convicted of the crime despite the fact he had a substantiated alibi and that there was a convicted sex offender with greater probable cause. After serving eighteen years for the crime, he was found innocent through DNA analysis and released.

While in the process of suing the country for his wrongful imprisonment, he was once again arrested, this time for the murder of a woman. Though there was evidence that would include him amongst many possible suspects, it was also possible that some other perpetrator could have scapegoated him. However, rather than analyzing these possibilities, a multitude of situations allowing for the abuse of police, detective, legal and media authority led to Steven Avery and his sixteen year old nephew being the prime (and only) suspects. The coercion of confessions, the continued abuse of the moral high ground by prosecutors, the assumption of guilt before innocence that was encouraged to the media by the police prior to the trial, and the repeated witnessing of evidence being manhandled, and/or manipulated is a nightmare for any practitioner of critical argumentation. He was found guilty and is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. However, even after his convictions, the jury members commented that when they entered their deliberations 7/12 members began with him being innocent. One jury member had to leave due to a family emergency and three had reportedly entered the trial with the outspoken conviction of his guilt. In addition, even though he was found to be innocent of his earlier crimes, his reputation as a criminal clearly influenced the perception of his moral character as he stood for sentencing in front of the judge.

Clearly, this is just a very brief summary of what transpired over decades (and I could not more highly recommend watching the series on either Netflix or Youtube and reading up on it through other sources), the troubled legal life of Steven Avery demonstrates the power of authority over authorship. Even when Avery was clearly telling the truth, he could not stand up to the legal narratives that convicted him. This leads us to two important questions: 1) How can we develop critical thinking skills to question, respond, and search for the authentic truth rather than the attractive and easy truths? 2) How can the methods of authority be more clearly derived from critical transparency, authenticity, and ethicacy? Through watching Making a Murderer we learn more about the function of power in our modern, American society. Regardless of Avery’s ultimate guilt or innocence, the abuse of authority through the manipulation of narrative (or authorship) is clearly present throughout this documentary. It presents a depiction of authority that all citizens should be concerned by and not accept as the status quo.

Now, before concluding this article it is essential that we look at the source that inspired this discussion. Everything that I know of this case was presented by two documentarians. After immersing myself in a little over ten hours of the history, I can’t say that I have not been seduced by the aesthetics of the film. If you were to ask me now, I would say from the evidence I saw, there is serious doubt to Steven Avery’s guilt, and if I “theoretically” had been on the jury, I could not have voted to convict.  However, my opinion has been developed through the context of the film that (while extensive) is only ten hours and does have an author’s bias.

So, how does the manipulation of the documentary’s narrative differ from the manipulation that happened during Avery’s trial? First of all, the audience knows that they are watching a documentary that has been pieced together in retrospect. Secondly, the documentary makers are not authorities in the legal system and even if they do take liberties with the narrative they are not sworn to the same ethical obligations. The job of documentary filmmakers is to inspire their audiences to reveal untold truths by asking interesting questions. At the time of Avery’s trials he was not given the question of guilt or innocence by the public, he was only met by social outrage. Now, at the time of this documentary, it is my belief that he will be offered the chance to have the status of his guilt publicly questioned. In addition, new questions regarding authority figures will also be asked—as they specifically relate to the case, and as we accept them in general within our society. So, yes, the documentary is a work of authorship. But, it is not an abuse of authority because it clearly reveals its methodologies, and, rather than leading to one clear response, it calls for critical reform and accountability.

Making A Murderer: Trailer

 

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Le Livre de Visage: Philistine, Bohemian, and Eligere

June 4, 2011

Le Livre de Visage, or Le Facebook, is a unique cultural phenomenon. Not only does it remind us of the ancient social hierarchy of the Philistine, Bohemian, and Eligere, but so does it articulate the hierarchy of social needs closeted within. Undeniably attractive, the rough beast of cyber globalization slouches toward the Bethlehem of our intellectual heritage.

Philistinism:
likeWhile the term Philistine has historical roots straight back to the Bronze Age and the Canaanites, the use of Philistine has become a social moniker. According to the Urban Dictionary a Philistine is:

A conformist in everything they do. A person who is obsessed with sports, sex, and Motor vehicles. They listen to whatever everyone else is listening to, wear whatever everyone else is wearing, and avoid anything that is in the least bit unusual, unique, or eccentric (06/04/2011, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=philistine&defid=2046655).

While Philistine might be equated with a modern concept of social conservativism, it may be adder that the Philistine favors materialism and the unthinking conventional forms of life, art that has a cheap and easy appeal.

Bohemianism:

gypsyIn contrast to the Philistine, Bohemianism is the practice of the unconventional life. Intentionally, or unintentionally, the Bohemian lacks permanent ties and is often described as being wanderers, or adventurers. Bohemia is a counter-culture group that has inspired the evolution of art, literature, and music by existing outside of what is predictable, or the established norm.

Originating in the Gypsy culture stemming from Bohemia, the romanticized life of the Gitano vagabond has been applied to the avant-garde thinkers throughout western society. Bohemianism exists as both an organic and constructed reaction to the values of Philistinism.

Eligere:

Directly related to the commonly used elite, the Latin eligere is translated as “to elect.” The Eligere exist in a status above the proletariat classes (including both Philistine and Bohemian). An exceptional, privileged group that wields considerable power within a community. Power being defined as including physical, spiritual, intellectual, and financial factors.

The views, opinions, and desires of the Eligere should be taken more seriously than that of the under classes. Conventional life is directly influenced by their behavior. However, the lifestyle of the Eligere remains allusive and unattainable by the majority. A good example of this phenomenon is fashion—unaffordable and inaccessible fashion trends reach the masses when they are passé to the Eligere. In commerce, the Eligere are the most successful bourgeoisie. Intellectually, popular culture is vulgar.

Le Facebook:

Originating from the exclusivism of the Harvard Eligere, Facebook is founded on the concept of being either in or out. Evolving to include all that have obtained a .edu email address it was not long before the distinction of education was eliminated and the Facebook world was opened to the world. Now, it carries the reputation of being a tool to organize revolutions in third world countries and is developing online commute technology for the everyday worker.

Clearly used for the boorish pursuit and dissemination of sex, drugs, gossip, popular culture, and the like, Facebook indulges the user in the simplicity of primal purpose. No longer the epic, a post is founded on the verb “to be” which is not much more complicated than the grunt of a Neanderthal. The obvious use of Facebook as a channel for managing, communicating, and reinforcing philistine desires has clearly been accepted by both individuals and corporations.

However, the news bite synthesis of information linked to larger expository writing, the mixed media capabilities, and the instantaneous exposure to the perspectives of a global community allow for creativity and the breaking down of what is known or expected behavior. As a new tool and forum of exploration, the creative potentials for Facebook are incredible. Whether one is dealing with digital media or merely looking for rare, likeminded collaborators, there is great potential for a person to travel far beyond the ordinary. While it is unclear what the path of bohemia looks on Facebook, it is also clear that there is still a space for unconventionality.

Amongst the Eligere, the original purpose of Facebook was for networking and defining social circles. The limited access of Facebook is over, and so is the private, elected party. The concept of “friend” has been deconstructed into the ambiguity of shared popular culture fetishes. Instead of developing more intimacy through written conversation, approval is asserted by the eloquent “like” or “poke.” The Eligere now exist outside of Facebook. To participate is to reveal your true philistine roots. The Eligere have others to manage their online identity, if they choose to participate at all.

Dislocating Identity and Mad Narcissus:

Just as Narcissus became enchanted and doomed by the reflection of his own image, so has Facebook raised questions of how one’s identity is comprehended when observed separate from the Self. The postmodern concerns of authorship have returned: who (or what) is the author, text, and audience? On Facebook, intertextuality, or the boundaries between what is Other and Self are broken. Imagine a mirror. The mirror is broken into a hundred pieces. When one is able to meet the eyes of your reflection in one fragment of mirror, a hundred eyes of the other you look on from the sideline. They are all you, but the filter of choice in how you represent yourself is not stable. Unconsciously, consciously, or compulsively, Facebook reveals your identity from angles that are quickly becoming more and more difficult to self regulate.

While the triumvirate of  social classes (Philistine, Bohemian, and Eligere) exist as the sign posts of cultural identity, they also reflect the internal struggle of identity that is being carried out by the individual: when to conform, how to create, and what to keep exclusive.

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Hathor: Exploring Flexibilities in Identity through Egyptian Mythology

July 22, 2010

What is identity? Are we defined by where we are from, who our parents and children are, or what we look like? Do our names signify our essence? Can facts, variables, and perceptions clearly describe the nature of Self? Questions such are these are being asked in our twenty-first century society. No longer contained by villages, limited by singular racial and cultural heritage, or relegated to one expression of individuality, we find modern men and women struggling to find a vocabulary to express the sustained substance of self-ness. Just as the question of identity is currently being challenged, so it was presented in the mythology of ancient Egypt. Gods and Goddesses transcended borders, cultures, form, nomenclature, and even actions. The nature of Egyptian Gods is described by Geraldine Pinch in her book, Egyptian Myth: A Very Short Introduction:

For the Egyptians, deities were first and foremost possessors of power. They were all available by prayer about any subject, but there was some degree of specialization. The nature of deity could be expressed by their names and epithets, by their appearance, and by the roles they played in myth. (39)

At times, a God could be represented in one form and then transform into an entirely new context, leading to an ambiguity of identity. A specific example of this phenomenon is recognized in the form, symbolic function, and mythology of the Goddess Hathor.

The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt describes the forms of Hathor in the following way:

Hathor: Important bovine goddess worshipped in three forms: as a woman with the ears of a cow, as a cow, and as a woman wearing a headdress consisting of a wig, horns and sun disc. […] In her vengeful aspect she sometimes also shared the leonine form of the goddess Sekhmet, and in this guise she was regarded as one of the ‘eyes’ of the sun-god Ra. She was also described as ‘lady of the sky’ (119).

From this description it is clear that Hathor has a variety of physical appearances. In other descriptions of her being, she has been associated with the Goddess Ma’at, the moon, and the sycamore tree. The Egyptian Mythology edition from the Library of the World’s Myths and Legends explains that sometimes Hathor was the daughter of Nut and Ra, at other times she became the wife Ra, the Eye or Ra, the mother of Ihy (the God of Music), and sometimes the mother of Horus the Elder by Ra, or the wife of Horus of Edfu. “Her name [has been] interpreted to mean ‘House of Horus’” (80). Hathor can also be said to “suckle the pharaoh, the living Horus” and the queen is also identified with Hathor. From these descriptions it is clear that the form, body, and role of Hathor is extremely flexible and that though features of her form signify her persona, her identity is not limited to physical constructs.

Beyond the physical lies personality, or in the case of the Gods, symbolic function. Symbolic function can also be described as the archetypal identification of the persona. What is the thrust of the God or Goddess? From where is his or her energy derived? Is the deity limited to one archetypal image, or does it navigate multiple symbols? The Dictionary of Nature Myths articulates the symbolic and archetypal nature of Hathor in this description:

The popular Egyptian goddess Hathor has been labeled a sky goddess, a moon goddess, a sun goddess, a goddess of agriculture, a goddess of moisture, and a universal Mother Goddess and creator of the universe. […] [S]he personified the female principle—primitive, fruitful, creative, and nourishing. Hathor was a fertility goddess and, in that sense, also a goddess of love, much like Isis, the Greek Aphrodite, the Babylonian Ishtar, and the Sumerian Inanna—all of them goddesses with lunar attributes. (89)

While this description focuses on images of the nurturing mother, Hathor’s alter-ego or counter-balance is embodied by Sekhmet. Additionally, Hathor is also associated with music. Compared to her physical incarnations, her symbolic associations begin to constellate an identity. When the mother is present in nature, relationships, or symbolically, so is Hathor. Her form matches the situation, though her function is contained within a certain behavioral spectrum.

While the flexibility of Hathor’s form foreshadows her universal presence, it is in her mythology that we begin to recognize her character. For example, it is said that Hathor is associated with the sycamore tree, since when “Osiris’s drowned body was washed ashore at Byblos in Phoenicia it was a sycamore tree which grew up around it and enclosed it” (82). As a cow, she is depicted as suckling dead souls, specifically those of the dead pharaohs, so that they are “sustained during their mummification, their journey to the judgment hall of Osiris and the weighing of the soul” (82). In general, she was recognized by women at all levels of status as being the protector of pregnancy. In contrast, one myth, which is described by George Hart, explores how the tension of the opposites is expressed by Hathor. Hart explains that one day the God Re is instigated to reap vengeance. To do his bidding he calls on the Eye of Re, which becomes (at this time) his daughter, Hathor. Rather than expressing herself as a Mother figure, Hathor embodies her opposite, “a deity of invincible destructive powers, pursuing men in the desert and slaughtering them” (48-49). In doing this work, Hathor takes on the form of Sakhmet, who is described as “a ferocious leonine deity whose name means the ‘Powerful One’” (49). In the story, the Eye of Re is Hathor, but transformed into Sahkmet, who lusts for the blood of mankind. Re becomes sympathetic and distracts Hathor’s bloodlust with red colored beer that looks like blood. She becomes intoxicated and fails to slaughter the rest of mankind. While the devouring mother in the form of Sahkmet has been the primary figure in this myth, it is the nurturing mother that is called upon by Re to inspire the re-procreation of mankind. In this way, we may understand the balancing relationship between opposing symbolic functions that may be conveyed through manipulating, uniting, and intertwining the form and characters of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses.

Through the variability of form, symbolic function, and mythological representation of Hathor, we may begin to comprehend the aspects of identity that are consistent, that shift in relation to context, and that may be adapted. In answering the question of what is identity, the Ancient Egyptians may provide a new vocabulary for understanding the individual separate from an established context. As seen with the description of Hathor, representation over a variety of mythological experiences and association with a constellation of archetypal images provide a narrative foundation for initiating an integrated sense of being.

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Political Rites: Initiating Art

October 3, 2009

In recent news, the New York Times reports: “Possible Nazi Theme of Grand Prix Boss’s Orgy Draws Calls to Quit” (www.nytimes.com, 4/7/08). Having read only twelve words I know that this article is not entertaining gossip, but challenging theory. What is a Nazi Theme? Is it possible to combine Nazism with Orgies? Is this an article about social or personal psychology? Beyond the title, the article proves even more provocative. The “Grand Prix Boss” is also Max Mosley, the “younger son of Britain’s 1930’s fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, and the society beauty Diana Mitford, whose secret wedding in Berlin in October 1936 was held at the home of the Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels and included Hitler as a guest of honor.”  Immediately, without any details of what occurred at the actual “orgy,” it is easy to conclude that the “Nazi Theme” is Mr. Mosley himself, who was finally caught revealing his true fascist nature. However, the presumptive response is shortsighted and relies on the same reductionist theory of essence that led to the persecution of the Jews during the Third Reich. Details of the orgy as provided by the New York Times include:

[T]wo of the women wore black-and-white striped robes in the style of prisoners’ uniforms. The video showed Mr. Mosley counting in german –“Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier! Funf!”-as he used a leather strap to lash one of the women.“She needs more of ze punishment!” he cried in German-accented English. One woman appeared to search his hair for lice, while another called off items on an inspection list. Mr. Mosley, naked, was bound facedown and lashed more than 20 times.

This is all the evidence the newspaper provides to inform the public of how Mr. Mosley’s orgy was “Nazi Themed.” Where are the uniforms? Swastikas? Salutes? The session (as relayed by the New York Times) incorporates sadomasochistic behavior with limited German language, prisoner uniforms, and prison role-playing.

In defense of his behavior, Mr. Mosley argues “he spoke German during the sex-and-bondage session because two of the women involved were Germans, not to engage in Nazi role playing.” In addition, he also states “the garb worn by the women was ‘American convict uniforms,’” and as dismissing the Nazi allegations by saying, “The scenario was more Alcatraz than Auschwitz.”  In addition, it is important to note that all the behavior was legal and consensual. While there is no question that Mr. Mosley participated in a sadomasochistic orgy, there are doubts as to whether or not the orgy had a “Nazi Theme.” Here is the critical point of departure, where tabloid revelations become theoretical debates. In Susan Sontag’s 1974 essay, “Fascinating Fascism,” she discusses the appeal of fetishizing SS Regalia (which is without doubt a “Nazi Theme”):

[T]he perennial Englishman in a brothel being whipped is re-creating an experience. He is paying a whore to act out a piece of theater with him, to reenact or revoke the past—experiences of his schooldays or nursery which now hold for him a huge reserve of sexual energy. Today it may be the Nazi past that people invoke, in the theatricalization of sexuality, because it is those images (rather than memories) from which they hope a reserve of sexual energy can be tapped. What the French call “the English vice” could, however, be said to be something of an artful affirmation of individuality; the playlet referred, after all, to the subject’s own case history. The fad for Nazi regalia indicates something quite different: a response to an oppressive freedom of choice in sex (and in other matters), to an unbearable degree of individuality; the rehearsal of enslavement rather than its reenactment. (325)

While it is unclear whether or not the accoutrements of Mr. Mosley’s orgy were Nazi inspired, Sontag’s exploration of the relationship between sexuality and repression as it may be acted out through theatrical fascism is important. Regardless of whether Mr. Mosley’s actions were motivated by sexual gratification and/or psychological catharsis, the situation is complicated because Mr. Mosley’s lineage is sided with the oppressor, rather than with the oppressed. It is also likely that, having been raised by fascist British parents, Mr. Mosley may have many personal issues with repression and is struggling to channel these repressions in a constructive manner that include both sadistic and masochistic behavior. However, Mr. Mosley’s actions too closely resemble the oppressive, fascist fantasy of Hitler, and supercede personal psychology by collective values. The public’s reaction is strong and clear: while it is okay that Mr. Mosley’s personal behaviors are not accepted by mainstream sexuality standards, it is not acceptable for him to re-enact a violently oppressive political regime. In the public’s eye, Mr. Mosley’s behavior is ritualistically evoking the crimes of the Nazi party. Situations, like the one that surrounds Mr. Mosley, are important because they allow us to explore the emotional power that rituals provoke throughout a society. How is it that a private psycho-sexual encounter has the power to create outrage? In answering this question, it is critical that an understanding of the relationship between ritual, politics, and aesthetics be established.

While Nazi Germany and the Third Reich may be called many things, they are first a political party. The essential goal of a political party is to obtain power to influence the fate of a community. Theoretically, Democracy holds that the majority should be the deciders, while Fascism asserts that one individual should decide for the majority. In Catherine Bell’s article, “Basic Genres of Ritual Action,” she discusses political rites:

In general, political rites define power in a two-dimensional way: first, they use symbols and symbolic action to depict a group of people as a coherent and ordered community based on shared values and goals; second, they demonstrate the legitimacy of these values and goals by establishing their iconicity with the perceived values and order of the cosmos. (129)

Bell is stating that the power of political rites is focused on “symbols and symbolic action” forming a community that can then relate to a “higher power.” A bridge must be built between the higher authority, the symbol of political power, and the individual. While the initial construction is focused outward, the goal is to create a “connection” with the cosmos that will make it seem that the cosmos initiated the structure, rather than the other way around. Bell states, “It is through ritual, however, that those claiming power demonstrate how their interests are in the natural, real, or fruitful order of things” (129). How can one make a political party seem to be the natural path of a people? “When ritual is the principal medium by which power relationships are constructed, the power is usually perceived as coming from sources beyond the immediate control of the human community” (129). Bell’s statement is very important. In politics, rituals may create an authority beyond the control of a community. Ideally, the political party is expected to represent the interests of the community. However, if this is not so, political power is able to manipulate the community toward other goals. The success of political rites in bonding a group of people together depends on the strength of engagement. Symbols consolidate identification to embody the conscious and unconscious collective identity desires of a community. The artistic work of Leni Riefenstahl during the Third Reich demonstrates the power of symbols in political rites.

Celebrated as the poster-girl of Germany, Leni Riefenstahl shaped the public image of the ideal Aryan through her performances and productions. A biographer of Riefenstahl, Jurgen Trimborn describes her work and political affiliation throughout her 101 years of life. Her career began as a dancer and her work focuses on the aesthetics of the body throughout its entirety. Her networking efforts led her to become friends with Adolph Hitler shortly before he came into political power. Her friendship with Hitler provided her with abundant patronage. Her skills as artistic cinematographer were recruited to both document and artistically render the cultural climate of the time. Her film Triumph of the Will is a montage of a military rally at Nuremburg that was figure- headed by Hitler and his philosophy of a united, pure, Germany. Olympia features beautiful bodies committing astounding athletic feats during the 1936 Olympics that took place in Germany. Riefenstahl’s artistic eye had never been doubted.  However, her fusion of art and politics is frequently described as propaganda. Returning to Bell’s description of political rites, Bell emphasizes that it is important to have “symbols and symbolic action to depict a group of people as a coherent and ordered community based on shared values and goals” (129). Without a doubt, Riefenstahl created a symbolic image that mirrored the philosophy of Hitler’s regime. Sontag describes Riefenstahl’s work as “evoking some of the larger themes of Nazi ideology: the contrast between the clean and the impure, the incorruptible and the defiles, the physical and the mental, the joyful and the critical” (314). The aesthetic perfection of Riefenstahl’s portrayals provides evidence that divine beauty is possible on earth. However, her work also is explicit in supporting the Third Reich as the modern operating agent of this higher energy, the symbolic connection between beauty, power, and triumph is made to seem naturally affiliated with the Nazi party.

The Nazi party was exceedingly adept at accessing and utilizing the power of the political rite. Bell writes, “Political rituals, […], indicate the way in which ritual as a medium of communication and interaction does not simply express or transmit values and messages but also actually creates situations” (136). Hitler and Riefenstahl were very successful in creating “situations” that would go beyond the communication of the Nazi philosophy to embodiment. An important distinction in Riefenstahl’s work that facilitated greater symbolic meaning is that she was working as an artist, not as a journalist. While both perspectives demand authenticity, the artist has the right to an interpretive perspective. Throughout history this has proven to be dangerous territory. Where is the line between interpretation and manipulation? Artistic perspective and delusion? According to her biography, Riefenstahl claims to have been apolitical throughout Hitler’s (and her own) career and to have merely been an artist with a very powerful agent. Having read her 1938 speech in support of Hitler, she creates fellowship between the art of film and the art of nation building:

Once years ago, the Führer said that if artists knew what great tasks were in store for them in a better Germany, they would join the movement with even greater enthusiasm. Today every artist knows what also is clear to every comrade: reality is providing you with more than your fantasy ever allowed you to dream of. A Greater Germany has become a reality; we have seen it grow from year to year with increasing confidence and deep regard. The creator of Greater Germany is at the same time its most artistic member. (Trimborn 147)

Every successful political party has relied to some degree on political rites. Constructing symbols of state and ideals are intended to create a relationship between a people and their leaders. But what happens when the power of the symbols exceeds the influence of the regime? Can the association that created the symbol lose control? In her speech, Riefenstahl states: “reality is providing you with more than your fantasy ever allowed you to dream of.” Her relationship with Hitler enabled Riefenstahl access to complete creative control and unlimited funding for her artistic endeavors (art which just happened to be aligned with the taste and philosophy of her patron). Riefenstahl celebrates her success as an artist while simultaneously celebrating Hitler’s success as a political leader. Both are built on fantasy.

Sontag argues that Riefenstahl’s art embodied an aesthetic that is inseparable from her politics, a Fascist aesthetic. She describes a fascist aesthetic in the following way:

[Fascist aesthetics] flow from (and justify) a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain; they endorse two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude. The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all-powerful, hypnotic leader-figure or force. The fascist dramaturgy centers on the orgiastic transactions between mighty forces and their puppets, uniformly garbed and shown in ever swelling numbers. Its choreography alternates between ceaseless motion and a congealed, static, “virile” posing. Fascist art glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorizes death. (316)

What is the relationship between Fascist aesthetics and the authenticity of an artist? Riefenstahl successfully works with film to create visual metaphors, which should technically make her an artist. But what about the content that provides meaning to an artists work? Beyond the production, is there a responsibility to challenge how the audience views the world? In the 1993 Riefenstahl interviews portrayed in film “The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl,” directed by Ray Muller, Riefenstahl argues that she is interested in what is beautiful, not what is political. Throughout the film she is aggressively more interested in sharing how she filmed, rather than why. True to Sontag’s description of fascist aesthetics, Riefenstahl’s own life has embraced “two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude.” The enduring question regarding Riefenstahl’s work is whether she can be an artist, creating during and with the patronage of Nazi Germany, or is her art saturated by politics and limited to being beautifully crafted propaganda?

In regard to ritual, Riefenstahl developed the widespread success of the political rites that portrayed Germany throughout the world. She was working as an artist, but she was also working as an artist who knew her work was being read as if it were journalism. The world was viewing her work as an example of Hitler’s regime. The problem is that Riefenstahl’s work was limited to representing the grand philosophical ideals and failed to share the racist and destructive. In “Documenting Ritual,” Ronald Grimes writes about his experience working as an expert for a documentary film about ritual.

The choice of rites depicted in the film is driven almost exclusively by visual interest and the availability of footage and archival materials, not by how widespread or important the rites are not, nor how well they illustrate a category, nor by how much is known about the rite. (19)

Grimes’ experience working with the filmmakers shows that he was not expected to present the critical study of rituals; rather he was expected to support a preconceived drama of ritual made by the producers. His complaints of the producer’s narrow vision are supported by their ability to manipulate the perspectives of others through literally cutting and pasting film. The following is a description of what type of material was represented in the “documentary”:

The implied criteria for visual interest are how much movement and color there is, the recording quality of the clip, and the projected ability to attract and hold viewers’ interest. Among the aesthetic preferences exhibited by “Sacred rites and Rituals” are largeness of scale (big crowds and wide vistas are preferred), scenes involving blood or pain, actions with no obvious explanations, culturally unfamiliar sites, and actions displaying ornate or minimal clothing.

Interestingly, the standards for this documentary are similar to the “fascist aesthetics” that Susan Sontag described. Instead of engaging in the experience of ritual, the documentary turns ritual (and those who practice ritual) into “things.”  By turning ritual into a representation of “the other” or a “different thing,” it is no longer representing its original symbolic embodiment within a community; rather it has been co-opted by another perspective. In “Documenting Ritual,” Grimes explains that the problem with this process is that the viewer becomes dependent on the film to interpret the material. The audience fails to think for themselves:

[V]iewers of a “touristic” documentary are rendered dependent on the film. They could not possibly understand performances so exotic and impenetrable without experts, narrators, and filmmakers. Viewers would not perform such rites, because they are too “mysterious,” and viewers could not make intellectual sense of the rites without assistance. In contrast, the viewer of a contemplative documentary thinks, “well, that makes more sense than I would have imagined. Why not do it the way these folks do it?” Or the viewer muses, “ I would never do that, but now it makes sense why they do it that way.” (26)

The complaint against Riefenstahl is first that she was facilitating political rites that enabled the Nazi party to accomplish tremendous crimes against humanity. Secondly, that even if her intentions were to create beautiful images, she was able to do so by the commission of the Nazi party, was privileged to their inner circles, was an intimate friend of Adolph Hitler, and claimed to be an artist while failing to achieve critical engagement within her self and audience. If her failure of perception was intentional, then it was criminal, but if it was unconscious, then she becomes an initiate to the political rite she worked to establish.

In both the case of Leni Riefenstahl and Mr. Mosley’s “Nazi Themed Orgy,” the participant’s relationship to ritual helps to clarify public response. As Riefenstahl demonstrated with her work for Hitler, the energy of political rites is established by creating a connection between the individual, the symbol, and a higher cosmic energy. Because of her success in engaging a nation, and the world, through her mythic images, it is impossible to disassociate the art from what inspired its creation. Through the atrocities of Nazi Germany, the symbols of Riefenstahl’s work are invested with a cosmic power beyond the control of the artist. The effectiveness of the initiation of these symbols by the Nazi political rite is demonstrated through the public outrage expressed toward Mr. Mosley’s private acting out of abusive behavior and its vague illusions to the rituals that previously provoked world war. If Riefenstahl’s work served as Nazi propaganda and disengaged the audience from being critical, then the repercussions are found in a heightened sensitivity toward any symbolic reference to the imagery that distracted the world from preventing crimes against humanity. Consciously or unconsciously, Mr. Mosley incited a response of outrage that was absent during the original symbolic initiation.

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Fairy Tales: Critical Theory and Archetypal Interpretation

August 28, 2009

The question of how to read a text has been asked and argued by theorists since the first work was offered to an audience for interpretation. Questions of what should be considered separable and inseparable from the review of the text are many, the stronger of which have developed into schools of critical theory. The initial debate in reading a text is over the precedence of form versus content. Though Aristotle began this debate, it became publicly popular in the 20th century because of the cultural critic Susan Sontag. Taking a firm stance, Sontag argued for the supremacy of form, and then, over a decade later, changed her position and wrote discourse supporting the primacy of content. Beyond Sotnag’s writing, scholars throughout the world have found legitimate and convincing rationale for either approach. The crux of each perspective argues that through understanding the form, or by going in-depth into the content, the text will naturally open itself to a relevant interpretation. Beyond form and content, additional schools of criticism have emerged throughout the last century. T.S. Eliot headed the movement for New Criticism, in which the meaning of the text is found by staying with the text. Stanley Fish has argued for Reader Response, where the reader’s process of engagement decides the hermeneutic route of understanding. Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalysis introduced a new way of understanding textual relationships through the differentiation of Self and Other. The move toward Psychoanalytic interpretation lay the foundation for specialized interpretation, as is found in Cultural, Deconstruction and Feminist criticism.  These are only a sample of the different types of interpretive methods that have entered the formal conversation regarding textual interpretation. These conversations obtain new meaning as they are reassessed in regard to Jungian analysis and the interpretation of Fairy Tales. By reviewing von Franz’ interpretive method of Fairy Tales within the textual context of critical theory, we may then compare the strategic methods of interpretation that are introduced by Marie-Louise von Franz in her Introduction to the Interpretation of Fairy Tales and further explored by Professor Walter Odajnyk in his article “The Archetypal Interpretation of Fairy Tales: Bluebeard.” Through understanding the variations in critical theory, we may begin to recognize form and content of interpretation as it relates to psychology and healing potential.

Marie-Louise von Franz’ method of interpreting Fairy Tales is outlined in Chapter Three of her book, Introduction to the Interpretation of Fairy Tales. This is a multi-faceted endeavor and begins by conducting a structural analysis of the fairy tale by observing the time, place, and setting. Next, the characters are identified and counted at the different stages of the story.  Questions such as the following are asked: How many total characters are there? Are they male, female, animal, or other? What is lacking? If the story begins:

‘The king had three sons” one notices that there are four characters, but the mother is lacking. The story may end with one of the sons, his bride, his brother’s bride and another bride—that is, four characters again but in a different set-up. Having seen that the mother is lacking at the beginning and there are three women at the end, one would suspect that the whole story is about redeeming the female principle. (111)

Any unbalance between the number of characters or gender is significant to the interpretation and understanding of the archetypal conflict taking place. Third, a symbolic analysis is begun. This involves looking up and amplifying the symbols within the tale. Preceding this process, psychological analysis processes the information and attempts to translate the story into psychological terms. This does not mean that the tale is translated to promote a psychological agenda or to amplify psychological ideas (Freudian or Jungian), rather the goal of this step is to reiterate psychologically what takes place within the context of the fairy tale.  Finally, personal and archetypal analysis may be attempted. This involves in-depth knowledge of the self and the cultural community in which the fairy tale is active. To verify that the interpretation is authentic and functional takes experience and intuition.

In comparing von Franz’ method with other critical strategies of interpretation, we find that it is a fusion. However, a chief similarity is observed in relation to New Criticism. The importance of staying with the text, or staying with the image to be guided to interpretation is significant. Second, von Franz is working with a psychological model. This means that a vocabulary is introduced in order to amplify dynamics inherent in the material. It is important to note that one of the challenges of using psychological theory in relationship to text is that often a text can be used as a case study to support the foundation of theories. When done thoroughly, von Franz’ theory rejects usurpation of content for the service of theory. The key difference is that it is an interpretation, not a diagnosis.   Cultural and structural perspectives may also be brought into the discussion and analysis.

At this point, it is important to distinguish between the different types of text. While critical theory has opened up the canon to embrace texts from diverse authorship and from innumerable types of media, von Franz’ method focuses exclusively on Fairy Tales. She argues, “Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes. Therefore their value for the scientific investigation of the unconscious exceeds that of all other material” (1). Here, it is stressed that von Franz sees her strategy as a scientific method that is researched, observed, interpreted, and reassessed. While critical theory has been known to assert a similar function in structuralism, it is not always the goal. Typically, theorists strive to achieve new strategies of engagement and understanding and are welcomed to them by the endless flexibility of form and content. In focusing solely on fairy tales, von Franz has changed the conversation by isolating the form and content of the text to a set number of variations. The isolated environment is essential for the success of experimentation. When the text is opened up to infinite abstractions, it is difficult to observe the innately abstract nature of the unconscious. Similarly to dreams, fairy tales enable a specific context and allow the unconscious to be observed.

Another important distinction is raised in Walter Odajnyk’s article, “The Archetypal Interpretation of Fairy Tales: Bluebeard.”  In the introduction Odajnyk distinguishes between the “personalistic approach” and “archetypal interpretation.” Instead of representing human beings and their neuroses, fairy tales personify archetypes, which in turn are the language of the unconscious. The characters in a fairy tale behave “stereotypically and appear to have hardly any inner psychic life […] We may conclude, von Franz writes, that the characters in fairy tales represent archetypes, not human beings, and that the stories address transpersonal difficulties, developments, and dangers and not neurotic complications of an individual” (10). This statement is continued to assert that in the personalistic approach there is no healing potential. In archetypal interpretations the possibility of healing comes from recognizing the archetypal interactions that are unbalanced and then witnessing their realignment. Unconscious elements become conscious and the complex is understood within an attainable context. Just as von Franz narrows the scope of content and form to a contained continuum, so do fairy tales make the unconscious accessible.

In his article, Odajnyk argues “The ‘personalistic approach’ has become the dominant form of fairy-tale interpretation among Jungians and non-Jungians alike” (11). Why is the personalistic approach dominant and how does it nullify the healing potential? One way of observing these questions is to look at the experience of children engaging in fairy tales in comparison to adults and critical theory. As noted above, the challenge of critical theory is to enable engagement with a text. This engagement should lead to some revelation that relates to human experience. Through archetypal interpretation the psyche is engaged and the individual and (in the case of fairy tales) the community have a healing experience. In observing adults, it is difficult to distinguish what is archetypal engagement and what is critical processing, because everything is being processed by a mature intellect. In reading fairy tales, an adult may either interpret a fairy tale in relation to a critical theory, personal identification, or, ideally, an archetypal interpretation. However, a child does not have the context for critical theory, or the developed ego for complex identification. Therefore, the clarity and appeal of archetypes is made more visible. Though a child is not typically in need of the type of healing that an adult may need, the fairy tale serves as a method of emotional and psychological instruction. A recognition of unbalance between binaries such as good and evil, positive and negative, feminine and masculine, and light and dark is made. For the child, an early education in archetypal structures facilitates adult interpretations and healing. This education begins with simple imagist representations that are depicted in cartoon form, such as Pokemon and many Disney films, and then extends to more complex fantasy genre, such as the wizard tales of Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling, 1997), the vampire narratives of Twilight (Stephenie Meyer, 2005), and the numerous stories navigated through video games.

The archetypal nature of fairy tales makes them appealing to children and adults, and transcends cultural boundaries. Fairy tales may be engaged as a means of education, entertainment, and healing. However, they may also be activated within a critical context to explore theoretical and interpretive methods of perception. Personalistic approaches enable creative re-visionings and engagement in a variety of critical theorizing. However, it is important to distinguish between the projection of personal or cultural experience and the archetypal representation of the Self and World that may be recognized by engaging in archetypal interpretation.

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Alchemy and the Hermetic Tradition: Mircea Eliade and Carl Jung

August 4, 2009

The relationship between Mythology and the Religious traditions is an intricate weaving of metaphor. Both Mythology and Religion have the similar function of relating lived experience to a universal purpose. Often, religion relates life choices to divine models, while Mythology creates narratives that contextualize experience. In many instances mythology and religion function simultaneously. However, a major distinction between the two traditions is that mythology is defined as an adaptive narration, and dogmatic perspective restricts religion to a lived mythic model. Though there is a wide continuum of religious interpretation ranging from orthodox to eclectic, as a lived mythology, religion is a lens that the world is seen through. To clarify, there is a specified Catholic religious lens that filters mythology to fit a defined vision of the universe. Many mythologies have foundations in cultures that are no longer active, such as in the Greek and Roman myths. These mythologies resonate throughout history and reveal archetypal characterization that may be seen throughout the world’s cultures and religions. A specific example of the relationship between myth and religion is better understood through the mythology surrounding the Alchemical Tradition as explored by the theorists, Mircea Eliade and Carl Jung.

A working understanding of Alchemy includes both scientific method and spiritual symbolism. A series of elemental transformations is intended to create a new material. However, these changes are not just dependent on following a physical recipe, they must also incorporate symbolic relationships. The basic alchemical sequence begins with a male and female sealing the prima materia  (original substance) into a vessel. This process changes the substance from being red to back, nigredo, the dark side. Calcinatio, is the application of fire to the substance, turning it from black to purple and then into ash. The ashes are dissolved in the solutio, or water. The sunlike substance, sulfur accomplishes the coagulatio, drying, of the solution. The pairing of opposites is possible in a gaseous state, sublimatio. Finally, an alchemical wedding of process and material leads to the reddish yellow/rosy pink philosopher’s stone, coniunctio. Details of this process are revealed by reviewing alchemical symbolism and writings throughout thousands of years of history. The residue of the alchemical tradition is found in science, mythology, religion, art, literature, psychology, politics, and many more areas of intellectual thought and cultural experience.

Mircea Eliade and Carl Jung are two twentieth century theorists who explore the implications of alchemy in a modern context. Each theorist has a working definition of mythology that reveals how the study of alchemy is an important mythological structure. The challenge that both writers have in defining myth is that it is the nature of myth to transform boundaries. In Myth and Reality, Eliade attempts a definition: “Myth narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that took place in primordial Time, […] it relates how something was produced, began to be” (5-6). This definition focuses on the method of mythology. He emphasizes that myth is based on creation stories, which are connected to what is sacred in a culture. In Alchemical Studies Carl Jung is less explicit with his definition of mythology. “Even though mythology may not be ‘true’ in the sense that a mathematical law or a physical experiment is true, it is still a serious subject for research and contains quite as many truths as a natural science; only, they lie on a different plane. One can be perfectly scientific about mythology, for it is just as good a natural product as plants, animas or chemical elements” (159). Jung states that both myth and science reveal truths, however mythic are understood in a different method than scientific truths. He also states that both myths and the elemental world are naturally occurring. While both Eliade and Jung agree that myths are an integral part of human perspective, Eliade focuses on myths as reflecting the sacred in narrative synthesis, while Jung emphasizes mythology as a process similar to other natural phenomena.

In The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structures of Alchemy, Eliade explores how alchemy connects the physical and the sacred through a variety of cultural contexts. Beginning with “Meteorites and Metallurgy”, Eliade states, “It was inevitable that meteorites should inspire awe. They came from some remote region high up in the heavens and possessed a sacred quality enjoyed only by things celestial”(19). He continues to explain how the exploration of metallurgy was connected to a spiritual understanding of the universe, emphasizing that in many cultures smiths, or metal workers, held an elevated status in a community. In a later chapter, “The World Sexualized”, Eliade refers to the union of metals in the alchemical marriage as a continuation of natural processes. He clarifies that plants, metals, ores, and stones were given gender forms by cultures in the ancient Orient, Mesopotamia, amongst others. The tools, individuals, and processes that engage these metals are all critical components of the Alchemical Tradition. Eliade establishes a clear connection between the production of metals and the sacred significance throughout his book.

In contrast, Jung articulates alchemy as a metaphor for psychological functions. Alchemy is symbolic of figurative functions within the psyche as revealed by a variety of myths found in visions, myths and symbols. Jung states that “The alchemist […] dreams in his own specific language”, and that “We have [to] learn the psychological secrets of alchemy” (69). He hypothesizes that “the symbolism of alchemy has a great deal to do with the structure of the unconscious” thereby implying that by attempting to wed alchemy with depth psychology we can begin to decipher both mysteries (69). In the chapter “The Philosopher’s Tree”, Jung states,

[T]he confrontation with the unconscious usually begins in the realm of the personal unconscious, that is, of personally acquired contents which constitute the shadow, and from there leads to archetypal symbols which represent the collective unconscious. The aim of the confrontation it to abolish the dissociation. (348)

In relation to this statement, alchemy is represented in two functions. As a tradition, Alchemy is a part of the collective unconscious and reflects archetypal symbols in a way that reveals psychic functions. However, Alchemy also functions as a personal journey of confrontation and dissociation. The alchemist separates from the collective to undergo a series of psychic processes in an attempt to separate, engage, and pursue the nature of the philosopher’s stone. Jung argues for both processes through multiple mythological and symbolic examples in a variety of writings.

As a tradition, the role of alchemy may be observed from several perspectives. Eliade argues for the connection of physical phenomenon to the sacred, while Jung creates a metaphorical connection between the symbolic functioning of archetypes in the collective unconscious and individual psychology. While Eliade and Jung enter into an understanding of Alchemy with different strategies and goals, they both argue for the importance of alchemy in the generating of myth throughout global communities. Both theorists articulate their understanding through cultural, religious, and mythical examples. Just as the scientific process draws on alchemy to explore chemical interactions, so does the intellectual mind rely on the symbolic experience of alchemy in the generation of an active understanding of individual and cultural systems.