The Immanence of Myth – an Anthology, by James Curcio
Myths and legends die hard in America.
We love them for the extra dimension they provide,
the illusion of near-infinite possibility
to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality.
Hunter S. Thompson
Myth is immanent. Myth is alive.
I know the idea of living myth is kind of hard to swallow at first. We think, and this thought is a myth too, that thoughts cannot be alive. What does it mean for myth to be immanent, let alone alive? What is myth, really? That’s where this book began, and I think that — now that it is being prepared for publication — that it has opened up the floor for the discussion of these ideas, more than having proven any of them, which is as it should be.
Where did it begin? Much of the material I first wrote for this book expands on the ideas I first presented in Living the Myth, my contribution to the Generation Hex anthology, published by Disinformation Press in 2005. The idea of “living myth” implies at once two interpretations: that myth is in some way alive, and that we can live it. These two are, to use a cliché, like two sides of a coin.
This idea underlies everything else that is to follow. My essays for this book, though varying in scope and content, all deal with the overarching concepts of myth and art, and all of the issues that invariably are tied into them: from the nature of representation to issues such as that of initiation and its psychological and social roles. However, at the end, all of these thoughts lead back to these initial, admittedly rhetorical questions.
Immanent myth is a concept that has guided all of the creative work I have done. However, as I have collaborated with other artists over the past decade, I came to realize that I was not at all alone in a mythic approach to art, even if all of our processes differ somewhat. (In this context, I often use the word “artist” when I mean to include filmmakers, writers, musicians, and so on all under that term, because there is no better common term. The same is true for the term “art” which could just as well mean any myth with an intended aesthetic dimension. Art is not one particular medium, and I don’t play favorites amongst media in terms of which is “more” art.)
This book began as a purely solo endeavor, a collection of essays based around the issues and ideas that arose naturally as I worked on various collaborative creative projects. Eventually, it dawned on me that I should open this process up to others who might contribute their own thoughts on the subject. After all, I believe myth is an assemblage, and that we are ourselves a set of overlapping systems, which overlap with all of the other systems in the universe. No systems are closed. How could I get any kind of grasp, however admittedly biased, of this subject without opening it up?
In retrospect, it is almost self-explanatory that an anthology such as this one would need to come about. I’d like to think that The Immanence of Myth provides a sideways glance at an art movement already well underway, which, even with the release of this book, will likely remain somewhat in the shadows. Even if the artists themselves attain some kind of fame, the cultural mythic process remains obscured. It is complex. It is not neat or clearly understood.
“Man’s world is manifold, and his attitudes are manifold,” Walter Kauffman writes in the prologue to his edition of Buber’s I-Thou. “What is manifold is often frightening because it is not neat and simple. Men prefer to forget how many possibilities are open to them.”
It is for this reason that I expect there will be some who find this exploration frustrating, as we do not present final solutions in any sense. If anything, we seek to open up the floor for more possibilities. Myth cannot be closed; it is the enemy of intellectual or ideological tyranny, even if it is a tool often used by tyrants. Myths can support xenophobia, they can support and re-enforce racism and all the other ideological divisions. In fact, those ideological divisions are nothing other than myths themselves. But the nature of myth itself is not divisive, even when it is destructive. For instance, animals that prey upon one another e.g. bacteria that infect and destroy our bodies – all these things are acting in accord with one another in a systemic sense.
So, perhaps the mythic current of art has always been underway. All art, except the exceptionally conceptual or technical, is at least partially mythological. Yet, to be blunt, much of the modern art world has lost touch with a conscious sense of this mythological foundation. Instead it wanders endlessly in a hall of mirrors, a kind of neurotic self-analysis. Perhaps it all comes down to a misunderstanding of Duchamp’s urinal, “Fountain.” The urinal is not art, unless everything is. A message you can take away from the urinal is: the art world is a farce. If you place a piece of garbage in a gallery, it has been magically transformed into art. This is a comment on the nature of galleries and how we view art as a commodity far more than it does on the actual nature of art. In much contemporary, abstract art, signifier and signified are externally decoupled; the piece becomes completely self-referential, a conceptual ouroborous with no real entry or exit point back into personal experience.
A piece such as “Fountain” also raises the question, “why does something require a point?” Right now, an artist I live with is building a four foot tall pink penis in the living room. This became the spring-board for the gonzomentary series “Clark.” Everyone is drawn to ask what the motivation behind something like this might be, what purpose does it serve? On the surface, its point is perhaps that it has no point. There is an argument to be made that much art in the past fifty years asks this question, “Why do I need a purpose, an underlying narrative? Why can’t I just be?” This changes nothing: we still mythologize these pieces and the lives of the artists that make them, even if they exist entirely without inherent purpose or narrative. A purposeless piece of art without a surrounding myth can be of interest to no one. Additionally, no work of art can actually be purposeless any more than any utterance can be. The subconscious plays a key role in the creation process. We’ll discuss this at length later.
An art world quarantined from everyday life is also a myth that may have outlived any imaginable purpose that doesn’t have to do with art industry. As I discovered in my gonzo journalistic forays while working as editor of Alterati in 2007, much of the “real” art scene is isn’t happening in the galleries. It is often occurring on the street, in seemingly abandoned factories, or behind closed doors in small studios. Art needn’t be obsessed over either self-commentary or being terrified into proving its worth in the face of blind industry. There is much more to explore in the psyche, which is where art excels. If there is a universal bias in this work about the nature of art, it is that.
We will be exploring the subject of immanent myth from many angles, through articles, essays, and interviews from a variety of people actively engaged in mythic work and research. As our exploration progresses, we will move from a rather abstract view of myth as an existential dimension to increasingly specific instances of personal myth. Much as with the experience of viewing a painting, at twenty feet, ten feet, five feet, and up close, our experience will vary. It may even seem that the painting changes forms, as you’d see with an impressionist like Monet. This methodology and format will also shift to match our ongoing change of perspective. Keep this shifting scale in mind as you read through, as it should provide a frame of reference.
The book is broken into four parts. In part one; we will take on a big picture exploration of immanent mythology as a philosophical concept. Many of these investigations will come from the initial materials I prepared for this book. In part two, we will take a look at examples of modern myth in a variety of fields. Part three will open up yet more personal perspectives on immanent mythology, and the final section of this book is composed of conversations that I’ve had with artists and other would-be myth-makers.
All of this answers why I organized and wrote this material. Next, of course, is who is it written for? That’s where you come in. The Immanence of Myth was written for anyone who wants to explore the possibilities myth provides, but especially for creative artists who, like myself, wish to inform their work with knowledge of the internal world that myth connects us to. It is this internal current that I hope to both amplify and emphasize. Together we will explore some of the endless possibilities provided by myth as a creative dimension, even if an essay must necessarily remain in the field of didactics. For those that work in some creative medium, it is my intention to assist you in shaping genuinely mythic experiences for your audiences.
The next and final question that follows from our reportorial trinity: what is mythically inspired art? What is myth? That’s a great deal more difficult to answer. Though there is no true tabula rasa, let’s begin from a place of vulnerability, and propose that everything we know about myth is wrong, or at least, subject to re-interpretation. Mythology is itself a myth. Admittedly, this is putting the cart before the horse, but it is the only way that we can resurrect what so many seem to consider dead. Myth defies understanding, for the process of understanding itself obscures it, or at the least, serves as a means by which myth reproduces itself. The critic, the philosopher, the commentator, the guy standing on the street corner preaching, the news-caster, the politician, the painter, they’re all myth-makers. But what do they have in common? You see the problem.
I will give a very provisional definition for myth which stands as a refinement of the common definition. Myths are our symbolic interface with the world, often but not always presented in allegorical or metaphorical form. Though there are immediately problems with this proposition, for instance, “Freiderich Schelling with his Philosophie der Mythologie set a new tone by rejecting all attempts to impose on myth a secondary ‘meaning,’ be it euhemeristic or allegorical. Instead he applied to myth the term ‘tautological,’ implying that it must be understood on its own terms as an autonomous configuration of the human spirit, with its own mode of reality and content that cannot be translated into rational terms.” (Comparative Mythology, Puhvel)
We may use myths to explore why something is the way it is, or what we are to do with it, but they remain just an interface. The effect that comes from taking that myth into yourself and giving it life is what makes it immanent. There is no transcendent realm beyond the symbols and in themselves the symbols are empty shells. The myth is living because we are ever-changing and transitory. In other words, we are living, and myth too is living. It is a part of us, our mirror. It is like the moon in relation to the sun — without the sun, the moon would cast no light, but in the presence of the sun, it appears to have a light of its own. If this seems far-flung, consider for a moment this statement once again: coming world conflicts will be driven by ideological and cultural fault lines. In other words, by our ideas about ourselves, others, and the nature of the world we live in. Ideas are not just ideas, when they take hold of us.
In many ways, this provisional definition remains unsatisfactory. The function of myth is too complex to cleanly codify. In the final reckoning, myth is a process of creative participation in reality, and so there is no way to dissect it, label its parts, and offer it up for analysis without rendering yet another myth.
Further, we are nowhere with this word “myth” until we can determine what its personal and cultural function is, and where the points overlap between these various elements. In other words, we need to build a map of a cognitive terrain that is not necessarily a “where” or even a “when,” and so this book is dedicated towards exploring an ideological topology of myth. You might even say that such a topology might serve as a rough map of the potential elementary ideas of divinity: even if, to that extent, a book such as this can only serve as a doorway rather than a destination. From these fragments we can begin to piece together the Gods of our image.
Whether it will remain an unconventional whisper in a dark room or the amplification of a movement only time can tell.
The Immanence of Myth will be published by Weaponized in June, 2011. Pre-orders available by or before March, 2011. Stay Tuned to www.ModernMythology.net to follow the web outcropping of this project.
James Curcio creates dystopian propaganda for a generation of disenfranchised hedonists, intellectuals, and drug addicts. Rumors of being a key member of a harem of feral lesbians are slightly exaggerated. This propaganda is fed by a fascination with the overlap of narrative, psychology, philosophy, systems theory, and of course mythology, which seems to be an almost pathological fixation of his. Previous brain-washing agents have taken the form of novels, essays, scripts for comic and films, musical albums, soundtracks, podcasts, live performances, and installations. Now, in a move that may telegraph some kind of psychotic break, he’s acting in the world’s first Gonzomentary. He’s written for Disinformation, the press formerly known as New Falcon Press, Reality Sandwich, Immanion, Alterati, Jive Magazine, and many other underground or counterculture outlets you’ve likely never heard of. He will sleep when he is dead and refer to himself from here on out in third person.