Saturday, January 14, 2006

Birth of Poet: Fourth Meditation

Meditation IV: Dionysus and Apollo

As I've explored the Birth of a Poet concept, I've been circling around the idea of cyclical time as opposed to linear time. [Please see the first, second, and third posts as a background for this one.] Vocation was the first archetype I wrote about, setting it as the way into deeper meaning in our lives. William Everson, the original impetus for this series of essays, posited two major archetypes for the poet--or anyone who seeks deeper grounding into the mystery of living. To those I will add a third that transcends and includes the first two.

Everson thought that all poets operated under either the Dionysian or the Apollonian archetype. In this view he was echoing Nietzsche and Jung. Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy offered the archetype of Dionysus as the source of intoxication, celebration of nature, cruelty, music, dance, pain, dissolved individuality, orgiastic passion, dissolution of all boundaries, excess, and destruction. Dionysus lives in the realm of cyclical time, closely tied to feminine energies, the seasons, and the consciousness of the body. Nietzsche then offered Apollo as the source for individuation, beauty, adherence to boundaries, individuality, reason, celebration of appearance, self-control, perfection, exhaustion of possibilities, and creation. Apollo lives in the realm of linear time, closely tied to the power of the sun, masculine energy, and rational thought. In essence, Dionysus is god the senses and Apollo is god the mind.

These two archetypes represent the split between body and mind that has plagued humanity for all of our conscious existence. Nietzsche felt that one of these forces was always in control, which would relegate the other aspect to shadow (to use a Jungian term Nietzsche didn't have). The highest form of art, as claimed in The Birth of Tragedy, was dramatic tragedy because it combined the Dionysian chorus with the Apollonian drama.

Jung took up this split in his attempts to explain the psychological sources of creativity. For Jung, the Apollonian artist works with the intent to create an artwork with a specific, well-reasoned message or meaning. The meaning precedes the artwork. On the other hand, the Dionysian artist allows the artwork to flow nearly complete from his/her psyche without conscious intervention. The following quotes from Jung's "On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry" (The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature, 65-83), illustrate the point.
There are literary works, prose as well as poetry, that spring wholly from the author's intention to produce a particular result. He submits his material to a definite treatment with a definite aim in view; he adds to it and subtracts from it, emphasizing one effect, toning down another, laying on a touch of color here, another there, all the time carefully considering the over-all result and paying strict attention to the laws of form and style. He exercises the keenest judgment and chooses his words with complete freedom. His material is entirely subordinated to his artistic purpose; he wants to express this and nothing else.

Compare that description of the Apollonian artist to this one of the Dionysian artist.

The other class of works . . . flow more or less complete and perfect from the author's pen. They come as it were fully arrayed into the world, as Pallas Athene sprang from the head of Zeus. These works positively force themselves upon the author; his hand is seized, his pen writes things that his mind contemplates with amazement. The work brings with it its own form; anything he wants to add is rejected, and what he himself would like to reject is thrust back at him.

These are idealized views of the creative process. He based his views on his reading and interpretations of how the text may have been composed.

Yet these ideas are useful and do offer a way to understand two very distinct modes of creation. Most artists/writers fall somewhere toward one mode or the other, but never as extreme as Jung has presented them.

Jung goes on to suggest that the Dionysian artist is working with material erupting from the unconscious mind, and that its wholeness reveals something akin to a complex. For the Dionysian artist, the creative process amounts to being a conduit for symbolic energy to spring from the depths of the unconscious mind--and sometimes, from the collective unconscious. [Jolande Jacobi, the Jungian writer, has written about the close association between the complex, the archetype, and the symbol (Complex/Archetype/Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung), a useful source for understanding Jung's views in the area of creativity.]

William Everson began reading Jung while he was a lay brother in the Dominican Order. The material eventually found its way into two separate books on Robinson Jeffers, both of which approached Jeffers as a religious poet.

Everson saw the Apollonian poet as working on a vertical axis, becoming a prophetic voice working to solve a problem, "a deficit, a hiatus, between the myth, let's say, and the ego-consciousness of the mind. And so he sets himself the great goal of bridging that gap by an adequate symbol" ("The Presence of the Poet," Earth Poetry).

On the other hand, the Dionysian poet works in the manner of a shaman on the horizontal axis, "primitive . . . directly to the infra-rational, the instinctual, the deeps of the memory and imagination. And out of this exposure of themselves, the Dionysian forces in the human psyche will produce a kind of dissolved state of consciousness, where the ego is not sharply focused, is more exposed and open. And out of this open, intuitive state of being the words will begin to find their center of reference and body themselves forth" (Earth Poetry).

To Everson, the Dionysian poet was a shaman, while the Apollonian poet was a prophet. Both are religious, but one is ecstatic (ex stasis, outside of the self) and one is rational. The shaman is a visionary who brings new information from the unconscious into the world. The prophet is the teacher and accuser who both delivers and indicts. As an example, T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland may be the most well-known prophetic poem, while Allen Ginsberg's Howl is primarily shamanic with some prophetic qualities.

The major flaw in this system--as far as integral theory is concerned--is that the two archetypes only cover the Dionysian prepersonal and the Apollonian personal stages of development. Neither offers a stable entry into the transpersonal. Yet each possesses traits of the others, indicating a close relationship--Apollo buries Dionysus at the foot of Mount Parnassus after he is ritually killed and dismembered. While Dionysus can appear as both the youngest of the Olympians and the oldest of the ancient gods, Apollo replaces Dionysus as the Supreme Being when he becomes the sun. Orpheus--the great god of song and music--betrays his allegiance to Dionysus and worships Apollo as the one true god, for which he is killed by Dionysus' Maenads.

Even though Dionysus and Apollo reflect lower human developmental stages, a poet "possessed" by either archetype could experience higher states of consciousness through various modes of ecstasy (drugs, drink, trance, meditation, and so on). These glimpses of higher states would then be interpreted through the lens of the dominant stage of development. [Understanding the distinction between states and stages is important.]

There is nothing wrong with either the Dionysian or the Apollonian archetypes--both can produce important insights and artwork, as well as an ethos for one's life and vocation. However, what is needed is an archetype that transcends and includes these two. We need to transcend and include prepersonal cyclic time with personal linear time to achieve a transpersonal relationship with time (which obviously becomes null and void at the nondual level). We need an artistic archetype that can reach into the transpersonal realm. After searching the Greek pantheon, the only acceptable figure is Odin, from the Norse and Germanic mythology.

Odin combines many of the traits of both Dionysus and Apollo: shape-shifter, hunter and warrior, poet and musician, fury and madness, psychopomp, keeper of wisdom as well as possessor of magic. Odin is both pre-rational and rational, shaman and prophet, perhaps representing his origin at a time when these developmental stages were in transition. Beyond this integration, there are two traits that allow Odin to become an archetype of transcendence.

The first trait is Odin's quest for wisdom and knowledge. "Odin was a compulsive seeker of wisdom, consumed by his passion for knowledge, to the extent that he sacrificed one of his eyes (which one is unclear) to Mimir, in exchange for a drink from the waters of wisdom in Mimir's well" (Wikipedia). He also sends his ravens, Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory), to travel the world collecting information whenever needed. The quest for wisdom represents a drive to transcend limitations. But wisdom was not enough for Odin--he needed more.

The second trait that distinguishes Odin is his ritual death and resurrection. Like Jesus, Odin dies for the benefit of humanity. Like Buddha, Odin's "enlightenment" comes at the base of a tree.

He hanged himself from the tree Yggdrasil, whilst pierced by his own spear, to acquire knowledge. He remained thus for nine days and nights, a number deeply significant in Norse magical practice (there were, for example, nine realms of existence), thereby learning nine (later eighteen) magical songs and eighteen magical runes. The purpose of this strange ritual, a god sacrificing himself to himself because there was nothing higher to sacrifice to, was to obtain mystical insight through mortification of the flesh; however, some scholars assert that the Norse believed that insight into the runes could only be truly attained in death.

Some scholars see this scene as influenced by the story of
Christ's crucifixion; and others note the similarity to the story of Buddha's enlightenment. It is in any case also influenced by shamanism, where the symbolic climbing of a "world tree" by the shaman in search of mystic knowledge is a common religious pattern. We know that sacrifices, human or otherwise, to the gods were commonly hung in or from trees, often transfixed by spears. (Wikipedia)

The connection to Jesus had been thought to be a late addition to the myth, but the evidence suggests that the elements of the story predate Norse contact with Christianity (possibly suggesting Jung's collective unconscious as a source of mythic patterns), and likely predate Christianity.

So what we have in Odin is a mythic archetype that offers transcendence as an attribute. Odin offers the possibility of a transpersonal experience in the creation process, and the greater possibility of an integral, transpersonal stage of development. For the Western psyche, he represents the best possibility for a transcendent developmental archetype for the poet/artist (Shiva fills this role in the East).

To my knowledge, Odin represents the first attempt to transcend and include the Nietzschean, Jungian, and Eversonian dichotomy of the religious poet/artist. This is by no means a definitive statement, and I am open to hearing what others think on this subject.

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