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Myth and Utopia


ONEOF the most striking developments in

the field of several decades scholarship is the emergence of myth as practically an independent field of study. Partly, at least, the interest in myth and myth-making seems to have been a reaction against a certain dry positivism, whether that of Comte, of Mach, or of the Vienna School. From a rather unexpected quarter,l from the Polish Marxist philosopher, Leszek Kolakowski, we heard recently a serious denunciation of positivism, a denunciation which sums up the inadequacy of this philosophy: positivism, writes Kolakowski, attempted to emancipate mankind from troublesome philosophical questions and from the need of studying history. We were asked to regard PhilosoPhical questions, Particularly metaphysical speculation, as fictitious, and to consider history as a succession of barren and futile efforts. Yet, Kolakowski concludes, can one seriously uphold the view that all speculative and cultural achievement to this day was nothing but the result of misguided efforts?2 This criticism goes far towards explaining the resurgence of interest in speculative philosophy, even in history and religionand also in the phenomenon of myth. Is then the study of myth as a valid form of thought, as an increasingly frequent meeting point for historical, philosophical and religious studies, a counterattack mounted by philosophers, historians, historians of religion, and anthropologists? I think the answer is more complicated than that. If

myth as a symbolic form of thought expressing a certain reality has a meaning, it is that entire societies and civilizations need it-and elaborate it-in order to understand something about themselves that cannot be otherwise understood and expressed. Myth fulfills a social and epistemological function that, it seems, nothing else is able to fulfill; when myth and the mythopoeic energy weaken, society loses its integrity and its distinguishing symbols become degraded. This is what Martin Buber says, evaluating the significance of Nietzsches cry, God is dead:

Realistically speaking the imagepower of the human heart has been in decline, so that the spiritual pupil can no longer catch a glimpse of the appearance of the Absolute. False absolutes rule over the soul, which is no longer able to put them to flight through the image of the true.s Is this not an indication that our present. interest in myth is not merely a reaction against an unimaginative positivism, but: that its roots lie deeper: in the decline of the model, the degradation of symbol, final-ly in what Eric Voegelin calls the socially predominant characteristic of our a g e deficient existence and its symbolic expression? In cases like this the myth as such does not disappear; but its elements and images are reduced and are henceforth seen as allegories to which no truth-value is attached. The allegories, in turn, because they are no longer credible, lose steadily


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their transparency-until they are ,interpreted, as Mircea Eliade writes, on levels increasingly coarse.yy5In the last stages the experience behind the myth is overly disbelieved because, as H. Frankfort formulates it, the imagery of the myth represents the form in which the experience of a community had become conscious.e It is well-known, from the works of Eliade and others, that archaic societies periodically reimmerse themselves in ill0 tempore in order to recreate the world and to profit, once again, by the prodigious energy that had gone into their own creation. Not being able to repair life which is supposed to have degenerated since the original outpouring of being, these societies feel compelled to return to the source and there to obtain the life-force sufficient to sustain them until there is time for the next ritual rejuvenation. Thus myth is always the account of a creation: but it can serve as a transcendental model only if it is itself rejuvenated (remembered as expressing real experience) at regular intervals. It serves then a regenerative purpose, since its language articulates the experiences of human-divine participation in the In-Between.* It is debatable to what extent does the Bergsonian fonction fabulatrice round out, as it were, these experiences, make them familiar hence palatable, and secure them against the encroachment of alien elements; but even so, we may distinguish between mere fabulation, Walter Ottos divine symbolization of stages in fundamental human experience, and the myth as a consequence of ontological obsession. The last-mentioned is, naturally, the highest stage, and the first two may be regarded as its stages of decomposition. It is evident that our modern (as opposed to urchaic) societies have lost the ontological obsession, and that they are now at a stage when even the material for fabulation is lacking and

the ontological moorings are loose. This stage, incidentally, did not begin with Nietzsches claim that God is dead, hence the term modern society must be given some historical flexibility. As the researches of C. G. Jung, Frances Yates, etc. show, (6 coarse myths have always been ready to take the place of the human-divine dialogue, whether in the form of the lapis phiZosophalis (a symbolical prefiguration of psychic totality, as Jung calls it, taking the place of Christ who is a dividing factor of the soul) ,9 or of such constructs as Campanellas City of the Sun, which incorporates most features of the magichermetic tradition.1 The dissolution of the myth and the deg. radation of its symbols constitute a long drawn-out process in modern Western society and wherever its influence reaches. As we have said, however, the myth does not vanish, it undergoes a succession of metamorphoses until the true story turns into a false story. True and false do not refer here to story, but to the structure of the real which may become obscured in exactly the same way as the content and meaning of a story may become veiled.l The mythopoeic energy gets into rear-gear, so to speak, it dismisses reality as illusory, as an appearance (the veil of Maya), and it constructs what various writers aptly call a second reality. H. C. Puech notes, for example, that the key word in the gnostic technical language is the other, the alien : the crowning revelation is that though the Gnostic is in the world, he is not of the world, he does not belong to it, but comes and is from eZsewhere.12 The just mentioned alchemists and magico-Hermetics were also involved in the construction of a second reality. Mircea Eliade sums it up well when he writes that unlike the man of archaic societies, the Gnostic learns the myth in order to dissociate himself from its results:


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Once waked from his mortal sleep, the Gnostic understands that he bears no responsibility for the primordial catastrophe the myth narrates, and hence he has no relation with life, world and hist07.l~ The gradually degraded myth symbolizes the gradually obscured structure of reality. The design for the second reality may best be examined by drawing parallels with corresponding elements of the myth. I prefer to call this design utopian, although I am aware (and Professor Voegelin reminded me of it again recently) of the somewhat inaccurate use here of the term. After all, it became familiar through Thomas Mores Utopia, and the author expressly excluded superbia from his ideal commonwealth, thereby consciously fictionalizing it. Nevertheless, doubts remain about Mores intentions. Frances Yates, for one, suggests that the Utopians were prisci theologi (that is experts anterior and superior in knowledge to church fathers and Christian theologians) whose object was to transfuse their pre-Christian-Hermetic-wisdom into Christianity, thereby saving it. If this hypothesis is true, it argues that Thomas More himself was an adept of Renaissance Herrnetism.14 At any rate, the term utopian has entered Western tradition, even the scholarly tradition, with both a positive and a negative connotation, indicating, on the one hand, a state of affairs worth aspiring to, on the other hand, a paradigm never to materialize but setting up a model to approximate. My own insistence on using the term utopia (lower cast), utopian finds its explanation in the conviction that in Weste m society utopia accompanies myth as shadow follows the lit object; in the context of our discussion this means that the exhaustion of myth and of the reality it transcribes leads regularly to a pseudomyth (utopia), with constituting laws of
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its own which, however, reproduce in large part the myth pattern. All our writers agree that the Judeo-Christian conception made an innovation of the first importance vis-&vis the archaic conception in such matters as time, creation, destruction, the end of the world, etc. Archaic societies, adhering to the cycle of creation-degeneracyrecreation, put their faith necessarily in an immobile model, always in the past as looked at from the perspective of (degenerating) time. Thus, as H. Frankfort notes, no pharaoh could hope to achieve more than the establishment of the conditions as they were in the time of Re, that is at the beginning.I5 For Jews and Christians, however, God became mobile, a God who reconciled in himself eternity and participation in history. He accompanies mankind in their time-bound existence, so that time cannot degenerate, nor can its course be retraced to its source and begun anew. The end of the world occurs only once: time has become linear and irreversible. The collectivity has no rest before the eschaton. As Voegelin has remarked, this is a heavy burden to bear.16 It seems archaic society understood the need for a periodic immersion in being so that time may remain related to its origin and recollection may not become too strenuous. Eliade writes :
Participants in the festival [of the foundation myth] become contemporaries of the mythical event. They emerge from historical time-that is from the time constituted by the sum total of profane personal and interpersonal eventsand recover primordial time which is always the same, which belongs to eternity.l This is not possible for Jews and Christians, consequently for modern man in Western society : the recovery of primordial time happens only once, at a time appointed by God, unknown to man; even


this is no mere reconstitution of the cosmos, a recovery of innocence. It is a time of giving account, of selection and judgment. Hence the many efforts in all parts of Western civilization to shorten profane time, the time of history, and thereby to relieve the tension that freedom (the personal and interpersonal events) relentlessly imposes, to lighten the terror of history with its Space lacks here for illustrations in detail of Western attempts to shorten history. We shall limit this essay to the pattern of the pseudo-myths (or utopias) by which Western societies try to bend time towards forms of the archaic cycle. The main difficulty is, of course, that return to the concept of cyclical time is no longer possible, nor would the origination (foundation) rites function as vehicles for reintegrating a primordial situation. Cyclical time would become, under the circumstances, terrifying because it would not bring society closer to the reality of its gods. It would forever turn on itself. In the second place, the Christian division of history in two, with a central existential drama both dividing and uniting the two halves, dictates a new pattern of myth-making, the two-time pattern separated by a cleavage. If myth insists on the recovery of ontological fullness, of the strong, fresh, pure world that existed in ill0 tempore,18 this cannot be said of the utopian design. Captive of the Judeo-Christian linear conception, the utopian designer cannot return to the beginning: not because he regards the biblical creation-story as true and unrepeatable, but because his nostalgia for being propels him forward, rather than towards a past model. Moreover, the cosmos for him, as for modern man generally, has become opaque and mute, it transmits no message, holds no cipher.20 He holds dear the images of Paradise, but only as fragments of a coarse myth: freedom from

work, nudity, sexual gratification, the destruction of time and of rationality.21 His utopia is not a link between a given community and its primordial model; the guarantee for it is not in ill0 tempore but in an undefined future which remains to be constructed. Hence the most important element of the myth, experience, is absent from utopia; in fact, its building blocks are the negations of the structure of the real. It is thus not surprising that the ideal model, not rooted in mythical or historical experience, can never be reenacted, turned into origination rites, made to live. There may be a superficial similarity between ceremonies of purification, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the Hermetic magus conjuring daemons to enter his statues and influence worldly affairs, the alchemist manufacturing his quintessence ( p i n t a essentiu, fifth element), the potent physical equivalent of heaven here on earth, and, finally, forms of modern incantation for self-liberation. The common element may be, as Eliade writes: the longing to be beyond and above the human condition, to transmute it by an excess of spiritualization, to see the human body behave like a spirit.22 Yet, the later examples strike us as artificial, as desperate attempts at breakthroughs to deaf spaces, or simply as idiosyncrasies; they are unlike the myth which is the instrument for communicating the experience of the soul at the contact of an intelligible cosmos.2s Through the origination ceremonies, the Indian sage, the shaman, and the other purifiers seek a non-conditioned state which preceded the fall into time and history. We have seen the existential significance of the ceremonial acts by which time and history are pulled aside like a curtain, so as to reconnect the community with its foundation and archetype, with the suddenly recovered sources of being. What followed, the norIBinter 1973


mal year, was accidental, the result of sin or even of a spell. In other words, the performer of the ceremony, the holy man, stands in a timeless time and concentrates in himself the potency of regeneration. (The same is true of the Hermetic magus and of the alchemist.) Similarly the utopian designer: he too stands at the point of junction-or rather, of cleavage-between two aeons: the profane, sinful, unsaved period, a period of trial and tribulation-and the period of redeemed history, that of homecoming for man, pure and sinless. The process can perhaps be described as the straightening out, the linearization of archaic mans cycle, under the influence, as suggested before, of Christian eschatological thought. The utopian designer knows that he and mankind cannot repeat the performance, hence that in their case there is no question of reimmersion in the archetype. Yet, the religious energy (enthusiasm) he pours into his work of redemption is about equal to the energy and concentration of the archaic purifier of the community. It may even be greater since it is also a borrowed energy from the Christian tension towards salvation. At any rate, it is a unique act, casting off the spell and the guilt i n one universal effort. Let us bear in mind that the archaic purifiers function is to restore to pristine conditions a state thoroughly degenerated and fallen away from archetypal existence. The utopian designers task is no different; but as he is not reminded by an agreed-on periodicity that evil has accumulated to an intolerable degree, he must generate by himself, so to speak, the conviction that, indeed, the time of redemption has come. According to this evaluation, mankind (or at least, his own community) has fallen away from the ideal state of affairs, so that the restoration of innocence must take place forthwith. It is characteristic of the utopian designer to interrupt history, leap out of
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It folit into a stable state of perfe~tion.))~~ lows from this that the utopian evidences no desire for reforming his society. We agree with Norman Cohn that important millennia1 movements originate in times of stress which are interpreted as an intolerable accumulation of evil and degeneracy from the ideal. Like the archaic performer, the utopian designer does not believe that mankind fallen into time, that society in its profane historical existence, can be repaired: it can only be abolished and another one constructed. The archaic performer was the possessor of sure knowledge, guaranteed by ancestors and tradition, ultimately by the gods. Details of the ceremonies were laid down with precision, and the expected consequences could not turn out differently. Every gesture was in imitation of the consecrated gesture: the slaying of the dragon, the dismemberment of Tiamat by Marduk (in the Mesopotamian myth), the creation, through the separation of Purushas head and feet, in the Rig Veda, etc. No such knowledge is possessed by the utopian designer (unless he is, accidentally, also a follower of Pythagorean or Indian doctrines of cyclical recurrence, a not infrequent case). The solution for him is then to regard the creation of a second reality as find, unlike the archaic performer for whom immersion in archetypal existence was part of the cycle. But how does the utopian know that the second half of history, the half beyond the present cleavage at the edge of which he (and we) now stands, is final? He has no experience of it except the very indirect one (which, in addition, begs the whole question) of his own subjective evaluation about times having degenerated to an intolerable level. The substitute for the experience can only be the claim that he knows the mechanism of the process by which first reality is transformed into second reality. On a specific


level of discourse this claim was certainly made by the Hermetic magus, and it was based on the identity of substance between the divine and the human mens.z5 As Frances Yates points out, Campanellas City of the Sun captured the higher spirits because the citys outlay added up to an immense talisman, an instrument of magic : its location, structure, buildings, shapes and decorations are magic arrangements, a replica of the universe. The alchemists made the same claim; their purpose, Jung writes, was to produce a physical equivalent of the substantia coelestis by which man, now in a state of unendurable dissociation, may become whole. The utopian designers knowledge of the second reality and of the process leading to it-an equivalent of the holy performers knowledge of the correct ceremonies-is not knowledge but, rather, a quasi-historical or pseudo-historical insight derived over the centuries from various sources through a necessarily personal interpretation. The sources have been the Bible, (varieties of) the Christian doctrine, apocalyptic literature, patterns of archaic myths handed down, often in unrecognizable forms, via gnosis, hermetism, alchemy, cabbala, the rosicrucian movement, free masonry, and so on. The role of modern science in shaping the utopian insight has also been steadily growing, mainly through the extrapolation of genuine scientific methods. Let us remember how many modern utopian designs have been formulated in the terms of one or another science: newtonian physics, biology, psychology, etc. Science helps the utopian to calculate the exact time and mode of the expected transformation, and to evaluate the historical process up to his own days according to a division into scientifically identified and labelled periods. The prediction of the final passage into the second reality thereby acquires a scientific status.26

The essential point is that the utopian

designer wants to secure mankind against the avatars of history. The second reality is thus not simply a new historical period which would be somehow different but in essence as incalculable as the first period through its own new aspects of personal actions and interactions; it is the sudden arrival at an ersatz-being, a state of religious enthusiasm which is supposed to lift humanity (and not just one given community) from the level of profane occurrences onto that of the changeless and the sacred. The logic of the situation dictates-and the available utopian designs admirably illustrate the point-that in order to harness the terror of history the interpersonal relationships must be brought under a tight control : education, marriage, parental ties, means of exchange, methods of production -all are regulated and worked out in minute detail. Not only are passions eliminated or at least neutralized (as incalculable) ,but also microbes, sickness and accidents are unknown in utopia so that nothing may upset the perennial validity of the model. Naturally, model is not used here in the sense the term myth was used, but without any reference to transcendence. In fact, second reality is an immanentist concept: the model, once established, tolerates no normal existence because that would correspond to degenerated history. Thus the utopian design cannot run the risk of terminating the ceremony : the ceremony must become permanent, it must remain the whole of community life. As the detailed outlines of utopias show,27 this life appears, indeed, as an uninterrupted ritual conjuring the forces of history and its terror. Today, as we note the proliferation of utopian designs-as well as the recession of the myth-we are left with weighty questions. But it is not within the scope of this essay to attempt to answer them.
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Not quite unexpected if we remember Lenins attacks against Mach and Avenarius. In The Alienation of Reason, Doubleday, New York, 1968. Positivism, according to Kolakowski, reduces mans world to biology and physics. Of logical positivism h e writes that its language was brutally aggressive, its style apodictic in a sectarian way. *On the Suspension of the Ethical in Eclipse of God, p. 119. In Immortality: Experience and Symbol, Narvard Theological Review, July 1967, vol. 60, No. 3, p. 257. The Two and the One, a Harper Torchbook, 19G9, p. 100. Before Philosophy, Introduction, p. 15. A Pelican Book. M. Eliade, Myth and Reality, p. 6. A Harper Torchbook edition, 1968. The Gospel and Culture, a Pittsburgh lecture, spring 1970. C. G. Jung, Mysterium Conjunctionis, vol. 14 of the Bollingen Series of the Collected Works, Princeton University Press, 1970, p. VI. Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Vintage Books Ed., 1969. Campanella, F. Yates remarks, had a colossal confidence in himself as one being in touch with the cosmos and destined to lead a universal magico-religious reform, p. 360. A contemporary illustration of this process is Bultmanns concept of incarnation. The German theologian does not directly deny the historical event, h e rather obscures it as a primordial event and a s a significance. Incarnation, he writes, takes place in the being of every Christian each time he opts for the new Adam. See my article in Modern Age, vol. 14, nrs. 3-4, summer-fall 1970, The Cult of the Self, pp. 270-279. Annuaire d u ColL;ge de France (1956) p. 194. Myth and Reality, p. 133. Op. cit., pp. 185-187. Wp. cit., p. 35. In other archaic societies the immobility of the beginning is stressed: the Chinese wu-wei (non-action) is the original state of being; in India, Yajnavalkya preached the liberating doctrine of immersion in the One allembracing Spirit; Xenophanes formula: henkai-pan, expresses the monistic principle which rnns through European philosophy. See also Parmenides proem. (For Chinese and Indian philosophical origins consult Georg Misch, The Dawn of Philosophy, Harvard University Press, 1951; works of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, etc.) ?n at least two works: The New Science of Politics (1952) and Science, Politics and Gnosticism ( 1968). The Sacred and the Profane, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959, p. 88. 18 Compare with the essay, Sukarnos Indonesia: A Few Years in a Long History, by S. Takdir Alisjabana:

Harmony with tribal life and with the surrounding natural order was viewed [in Indonesia] as coinciding with the harmony of the holy cosmic order. Life was static and conservative, since the decisive moment lay in the past, when the holy cosmic order had made itself manifest a t a holy moment and at a holy place through holy persons. (Quadrant, Sidney, October 1969, p. 66). Indian philosophy, on the other hand, seems to have found a compromise between the relief of tensions that the cyclical conception of time provides, and our linear conception: i t is the periodicity of the Great Time, repeating itself endlessly, but within which we must fulfill our duty as if historical time were also real. (Indras second revelation). Indian thought insists that those who pierce the veil of Maya continue living in history, but they do not believe in historys ontological reality. Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, p. 94. Op. cit., p. 178. Yjee John Passmore, Paradise Now Subtitle: The Logic of the new mysticism. Encounter November 1970, for an overview of books on counterculture and related phenomena. I t should be noted that the present decades have by no means a monopoly on practices like drug addiction, the sensualizing of the bodys erogenous zones, the various techniques of extinguishing rationality and heightening sensual awareness, the fusion of selves, sexual license, and so on. Similar practices are recorded about the medieval Brethren of the Free Spirit, the seventeenth century Ranters, even the natives of some Polynesian Islands whose original myths had been weakened by white influence. *Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries, Harper Torchbook, 1967, pp. 106-7. No matter bow intelligible, the cosmos can be fully known, Plato taught, only by the logos of the Demiurge, not by the logos of man. In contrast, magi, alchemists and other conjurers of utopia insist on achieving perfect knowledge, and, of course, total power. A. Doblin, Die literarische Situation, quoted by Raymond Ruyer, LUtopie et les utopies, Presses Universitaires de France, 1950, p. 70.I n Utopia, as in the foundation myths, time is abolished. mFrom Pic0 della Mirandolas The Dignity of Man: man is the magus who can marry earth to heaven since be was once, and can become again through his intellect, the reflection of divine mens. Quoted in F. Yates, op. cit., p. 111. =Let us note, however, that the calculations of a Joachim of Flore, for example, were made long before the age of science. In the utopias of Chauncey Thomas, Theodor Hertzka, Condh B. Pallen, Etienne Cabet, Louis Sabastien Mercier, H. G. Wells, and many others.

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