AN interaction between myth and language can be postulated for mankind as far back as we have any trace, at least to the Paleolithic. And a change in that interaction may be the crucial factor, overriding the related transition into various kinds of writing, for other changes in human society. The change from hunting and gathering to the earliest agriculture—the Neolithic revolution—may be correlated with, if not confidently derived out of, a change from a goddess-centered unicity of myth to a splitting into periodicities, complete with creation-myths, and all the vast, interlocking binary series of Lévi-Strauss’s demonstrations.
In the long history of this development back to the Paleolithic, and in its profound and complex ramifications into all aspects of human existence, it is to pass over the whole question of possible phases to assert (HN, p. 560) that the difference between myth and literature is one not of kind but of degree. Rather, literature constitutes an elaborate repository of achieved techniques for articulating and coordinating in language some of the more advanced stages of the interaction between the human psyche and myth. As has been perceived especially in our own time, but arguably at least since the Renaissance, literature draws intimately on myths and also activates a power for which myth itself constitutes a vocabulary. These attributes go far towards explaining at once the strange directness of the literary effect and the strange indirectness of the literary message as we attempt to decode it hermeneutically from its offered structures of language.
Literature in its various stages offers a repertoire of kinds for the relation between myth and language; there are other kinds, of which ritual is also one. For the survival in imaginative literature of a “primitive” consciousness, as Wayne Shumaker says (p. 54), “the language of literature resembles primitive language not only in being extremely concrete but also in tending to register percepts in Gestalten. . . . The writer’s eye tends instinctively to see objects in groups or against backgrounds.” Olga M. Freidenberg traces an interaction between image and mythic thought at early stages of Greek culture. The long controversy of how far and how fully ritual may be coextensive with myth may itself be rephrased as the question of how the communicative structures of a ritual, the expression and self-expression and collective affirmation residing therein, may be taken as another kind of relation between myth and language. Literature, visual art, the evocative side of music, and ritual, are all linguistic models for structuring a matrix of givens to some degree unknown: the area of myth.
In early society all features of institutionalized life stand in relation to myth: medicine, social classes, age groups, funeral customs, the management of dreams, the determination of decisions. These institutional practices can be related, of course, to systems of exchange and kinship, but the latter cannot be given the special priority ethnographic investigation tends to give them. And literature itself even in the most sophisticated societies oscillates between an explanatory function and a shamanistic one, of which the “pleasure” attributed to it at least since Horace is a sort of debasement, “Poets wish to teach or to give pleasure” (aut prodesse volunt aut delectare poetae). Or else “delectare” is a term crying out for some such explanation as Freud’s of what unknown force may lie behind the giving of pleasure.
In fifty thousand years of interaction between myth and language, there would have to be many overlappings and interfusions. One phase would not disappear soon, if ever; nor would another phase begin abruptly. For these reasons, and also because of our possibly permanent perplexity about the earliest stages of human development, the periods or modes I am about to delineate should be taken not as absolutely differentiated sequences in time, but rather as thought-types (Gedankentypen) in Max Weber’s sense, abstract structures for the means by which language, or some communicative form, accounts for and orders the unconscious terms of myth. Delineating the large phases of myth may serve to emphasize the implications of a shift from unicity to a cyclic and binary organization. And for the later phases it will help explain the power of ironic attitudes to see them as a motive force for the dialectical handling of myth.
The first such period that we may posit—the most arbitrary and abstract of all because the evidence is so puzzling—would be the unicity of a Mother cult which would include all mythic expressions, statements, and rituals.1 The earliest representational artifacts we know, and they date back to the Paleolithic, are figures of squat, heavy-breasted females, or semi-abstract ones (Marshak), presumably maternal, presumably divine. These are scattered broadly over Europe and Asia, and date back to a time before the Western Hemisphere is known to have been inhabited.2 In Europe itself these Venusses of Willendorf undergo many metamorphoses, becoming stylized, with occasionally fused phallie heads, throughout the whole of Europe from Kiev to the Adriatic, as Gimbutas demonstrates. Zuntz finds Persephone figures distributed widely through the Greece of the Bronze Age and earlier; he offers many parallels and amplifications for the figures discussed by Gimbutas. The earliest goddess figures have an even wider distribution, from Siberia to the Bay of Biscay. Such figures later become the Great Mothers of Crete and the Near East, the idols of the Cyclades, the Inanna of the Sumerians, the Ishtar of the Babylonians, all the later Cybele figures, and perhaps also the “Stone Grandmothers” (kamyennayi babi) of the steppes.
There are in Greece itself before Homer many traces not only of a Mother cult, but also of one that would suggest the unicity of such a “first period” in the remote past for the interrelation of myth and language. West (1, p. 37) indicates that “the scarcity of husbands’’ in mythology could be derived from the wide distribution of the Mother cult. One could also derive the scarcity of males from the overriding inclusiveness of such a cult, dispensing with the need for other than the replaceable, anonymous figures whom the later, emasculated priests of Cybele embodied. For Empedocles (B 128, В 130), Aphrodite represents the earliest phase of culture.3
In the earliest conceivable form of a Mother-bound unicity between language and its object in myth, the duality and arbitrariness of the phonetic process would not have been translated into a duality and arbitrariness of even a syllabary’s correspondence to abstract sounds (assuming that the earliest spiral writing recorded by Gimbutas is not yet this). Homer himself, who fuses the literate and the pre-literate, the present and the past, and also such abstract “thought-types,” may preserve a reminiscence of such a first period in the divination of Calchas, who interprets a snake (a chthonic being related to the Mother, and not exclusively phallic) as a separable portent (teras) as it creeps out from under the plane tree by the altars of Aulis (Iliad 2.303-332). Calchas’ act of interpretation is pre-oracular, and non-cyclic, a reading of nature perhaps not different in kind from an early hieroglyphic or even a wallapainting—though at the end he includes it in the cyclic reckoning of a time-count, “nine years and a tenth.” At an earlier point, in Neolithic life, it is distinctly possible, and more in line with our evidence than is the contrary, that the duality and combinatory arbitrariness of myth as Lévi-Strauss analyzes it had still not been developed so as to enter the language (or the traceable perception). At the earliest period we have no male figures clearly identifiable as equal in function to females, and also no clear mapping in the sex differences perceptible in the cave animals.4 Burkert (2, pp. 92-96) would include hunting magic in the sphere of the “Mistress of the Beasts” (potnia theron) as she is earlier called and perhaps still earlier represented on Minoan and Mycenean gems. But the patterns of ritual killing that he deduces cannot be associated to any other pattern: it would seem that the very fact, on the evidence he adduces, that animals were killed ritually in Paleolithic society at least as early as men would rule out a confident reading of a sacrifice-syntax at this period, in which animals are a euphemistic substitution for men (Girard). They could be, in history, a reversion masking as a substitution. And yet no such patterns could be read out.
If animals are included in the sphere of the Mother, however, then there would be a tinge of the “first period” much later—say in such late Roman examples as the grouped animals in the hunting scenes, interspersed with erotic scenes, of Imperial mosaics at Piazza Armerina. Nor would the mystique of the leopard-skin coat in modern times be wholly attributable to the dominant hunter’s proud ownership of his women, or wholly dissociable from the “Mistress of the Beasts,” since the fur coat is an icon of self-assertion as much as of submissiveness. The “ethologist’s” insistence on spatial territoriality or on ritual fighting, or even on communicative systems, as explaining the animal nature of man, may be taken not only as an assertion of scientific verity but as a reversion in a scientifistic spirit to an identification of man and animal, something to be found in the myth-charged inclusion of animals in human mythic forms, going all the way back to the skin-wearing ‘priest’ of Trois Frères. La Fontaine and Lewis Carroll offer sophistications for the mythic handling of animals, but the first phase lingers on, and none of these uses can be wholly dissociated from the animals of Altamira and Lascaux, or even from the dissociation-by-identification of the ethologist, who resembles the Paleolithic hunter in the focussing attention he accords his animals, as well as in his attribution of Paleolithic habits to modern man. But the “rituals” of animals, as Lévi-Strauss demonstrates (ΗΝ, p. 610), always differ from those of men in their handling of continuities and discontinuities.
The myths Lévi-Strauss analyzes are those of a second phase, in which a thought process constantly produces discriminations between continuities and discontinuities. In the world dominated by the Mother there are as yet no such dominant periodicities, even if Marshak has shown evidence for some correlation of plant and animal seasons and an awareness of the phases of the moon. Sumerian mythology, which makes so much of a central female figure, also refers to a time when activities dependent upon periodicities, pastoral and agriculture, did not exist, in the “Myth of Cattle and Grain” (Grimai, p. 62). To project a sex system back on the statistical and spatial occurrences of male and female in the cave animals would be to project backwards our own sense of their necessary interaction, in social process and also in mythology. But as Turner points out (p. 16), “the cyclical repetitive view is itself only one among a number of possible processual alternatives.” We can be confident, for the first phase of the relation between myth and language, of just one strikingly predominant hieratic figure, the Mother, who is, in Erich Neumann’s phrase, at the “origin of consciousness.”
This focus—an abstract “thought-type” as always—of all mythology into one dominant myth, and all notational processes into either one-for-one image or one-for-one tallies instead of abstract phonetic constructs, characterizes what is not only the earliest, but also by far the longest, period of interaction between myth and language. We can define this period in terms of negatives—no cycles, no crops, no social classes. (This condition of social equality Diamond finds still in African tribes at the Neolithic level.) In all this there is only one positive: a unitary focus of all charged perception upon one figure, the nurturing female.
To call the Mother “analogous” in some way to the process of the seasons, or even of the generations, is to project upon her the very periodicity which would have been, and did presumably become, the condition for transition to the next stage,5 the cyclic universe of “oral” cultures, which has provided the central repository of elements for Frazer, Eliade, and Lévi-Strauss, among many others. Analogy is already a two-termed process: it involves congruence between something and something else. The Venusses offer not congruence but centralization. The language that coexisted with such a (hypothetical) unitary perception would be “participative” to an almost uncontrollable degree. The unity of man with beast would be a fearful threat, at a time before the structuring of human society into totemic groups to control the threat and so structure the random acts of hunting and socialization into interrelated periodicities. Nothing in the earlier society could help being related to the central myth (the Mother), and at the same time no terms in the language could find the means for mediating, or performing transformations upon, the myth. General and particular would mirror each other without the categorizations of a “savage mind.” The only possible writing would be the pre- or sub-hieroglyphics of cave paintings, the one-by-one tallies of moons scratched on a bone that Marshak has deciphered. To perceive and record the waxing and waning of the moon, or even to associate deer with spring leaves as on some artifacts he analyzes, is still a long way from plotting and calculating annual periodicities.
Such categorizations of the typical and recursive features of nature and culture would require mediations and transformations. With them would come duality, in both language and myth, a duality which would be the most notable and perdurable achievement of the “Neolithic revolution,” as distinct from the unicity of a (hypothetical or actual) first period. Whether the transition be hypothetical or actual, Lévi-Strauss has confined his attention to that part of the inhabited world where till recently few physical traces of Paleolithic culture have ever been found,6 and only an occasional possible survival in tradition, like the parallel between M311 and M86a where the “paleolithic common heritage” (HA, p. 378) does involve a female sun god.
Having come across the Bering Strait, all the Indians of North and South America are at once sealed-off originals at a second stage of development, much like the Nambikwara whom Lévi-Strauss idealizes, and a “new” people, incorporating the myths they must presumably have brought with them in the flora and fauna of what, for them too, would have been a new world, adapting or developing forms that would correspond to the Coyote and salmon in the North, the jaguar in the South, the frog in either. Lévi-Strauss’s plea for a complicated preColumbian history (L־S 2, p. 218) would give the detail of, but not mitigate, the essential lateness and homogeneity of the peoples he studies.
The lateness and the homogeneity of the North and South American Indian groups, all of whom lack a complex Paleolithic development and most of whom did not develop a civilization, as the Mayans and Aztecs did, serve him conveniently to make their phase, and style, of conjunction between myth and language do duty for all.
The transition from the first phase to the second, indeed, may be said to have taken place through the activation of those very mental processes the understanding of which we owe to Lévi-Strauss. Once savage thought had codified by coordination and abstraction the periodicities in nature that would permit those techniques of food production and stable habitation usually called Neolithic, it follows both that the mythological constructs would use those processes of comparison and contrast, of coordination and abstraction, and that they would center for their subject matter on the very periodicities which permitted the revolution: on the relations between nurture and the agricultural, astronomical, and animal seasonal sources whose structuring allowed them to be predicted. The form and the content of such a stage in human culture would not only resemble each other—the form being that very mode of operation which would permit the content to be understood—they would also tend to locate the boundary between nature and culture at the very point where such operations of transformation took place. The Western Hemisphere, as a sort of natural laboratory, offers for study a vast array of tribes at roughly the same post-Neolithic but precivilized stage. These savages resemble us in that we, too, are the recent heirs of a technological revolution and may therefore be especially sensitized to the substructure of their stage.
In the second period the dialectical relationship between myth and language has the binary simplicity that Lévi-Strauss implies: the Ianguage of myth proceeds in his combinatory patterns, while the thought of myth proceeds almost randomly, but not indifferently, on a time-sequence whose only regularity is periodic, as Eliade among others has defined the time-sense of pre-literate cultures. In the second period the cyclic predominates not only over perception, and over such codified behavior as ritual, but also over linguistic accounts. Pre-literate is here pre-literary although not exclusively “oral” (since what may be identified as a form of writing is already in use) but rather pre-alphabetic and pre-syllabary.
All that we think of as characteristic of tribal society or an oral stage is present in this second period for the relation between language and myth, where binary patterns provide the interaction between the terms.7 Not only are social, economic, cosmological, and religious activities interdependent; their interdependence is factored by systems of transforming definition, as Lévi-Strauss has elaborately analyzed them. The recursiveness of seasons and life cycles, à la Frazer, takes a central role in ordering all human activity and explanation; patterns of reciprocity are set up among members of the family and various social classes and subgroups. Our ethnographic inquiries have tended to center on the description and coordination of these reciprocities, and to undervalue, as a simple binary opposition of positive or negative poles, the ambivalence of seeking and shunning which is embodied wherever the sacred appears, and in the very word sacer (holy/cursed) itself. A binary analysis serves to pattern this ambivalence, but the myth also preserves the ambivalence undiminished (unfactored) and transfers it into the language, as a term in the vocabulary. This vocabulary is one of single negations—arete or its lack, timé or its lack, aidos or its lack. We are at the stage of the shame culture, of a directness of response unanalyzable by codes, or even Aeschylean myths, of jurisprudence. And we are also at the stage of social classes; the king is sacred in himself, and a carrier and guarantee through his ritual death and/or incest/chastity of proper seasonal recursiveness; the king is the key person for a network of reciprocal social duties. We have left Diamond’s first level of a classless, nomadic society behind, and entered at least his second level, where a priest-king centers the tribe, though Diamond’s groups of “militaristic federations,” “extensive primitive democratic nationalities,” “conquest proto-states,” and “aristocratic warrior-oriented pastoralists,” all would most likely exhibit our “second period” characteristics with respect to the handling of myth by language.
These groupings, successively applicable to specific modern African tribes in his analysis, are all more or less simultaneously applicable to the societies pictured in the Homeric poems. His categories, too, are “thought-types,” and a given situation may present a fusion of several types, as a given statement in language about myth may do for the large־ scale phases I am sketching out.
Homer, the very model for Greek society and our own of an early harmonious organization, of an “Olympian” religiosity, functions mainly on the second-phase level of automatic reciprocity. So powerful and persistent a hold did this principle have over men’s minds that Plato felt a need to draft laws against it. In this communal society founded on timé, arete, and aidos, the Olympian gods work through a system of checks and balances. The model of the good society is the agriculture of the Neolithic revolution, though (as still in our own society) there remains the ritual hunt, and the Autolycos myth preserves, as Burkert (2) demonstrates, some traces of the ritual uses of wolf and boar. A standard image in Homer for the incursion of violence into a group is the seizure of a domestic animal by a lion, a scene also found often in Mycenean art (Vermeule, 1975). There is, in the Iliad at least, a constant and pervasive binary organization traceable from the balance of epithets in a single line to the overall organization of the poem (Whitman).
The cosmos engraved by Hephaistos in gold on the shield of Achilles frames formally, and takes for granted, such an enclosed society, alternating between the “two cities,” one of peace and the other of war, as the description of the peaceful city shows, with its cycle of marriages, plowings, and rituals; a circle broken, and then closed, by a blood-price for murder:
On it he wrought two cities of articulate men,
Lovely ones. In the first were marriages and festivals.
Brides from their chambers under glittering torches
They were leading through the city, and the loud marriage song was rising.
Young men, dancers, whirled about. And among them
The flutes and the lyres kept up the din. And the women,
Each one standing at the door of her court, admired them.
The people were gathered in the marketplace. There a dispute
Had arisen, and two men disputed over the blood-price
For a man who had been killed. . . .
And he made upon it a soft fallow, a fertile ploughland,
Broad and thrice-tilled. There were many ploughmen upon it
Who wheeled their yoke-beasts and drove them this way and that.
But when they had turned and reached the limit of the field,
Just then would a man come up to them and give them a cup
Of honey-sweet wine, and they would turn back to the furrows,
Pushing on to reach the limit of the deep fallow.
. . . And the king among them in silence
Stood holding his sceptre at the furrow, glad in heart.
Heralds off apart under a tree were dividing up a feast
And preparing a great ox they had sacrificed.
(Iliad 18.490-99, 541-47, 556-59)
Homer is so resolutely Olympian, so thoroughly binary in his presentation and reciprocity-minded in his social outlook that it would be possible to urge, as both Rohde and Nilsson do, that his is a special, ideological slant editing out the darker, chthonic survivals. These are to be found not only in the chthonic revivals after his time but in the life he and his contemporaries knew, which he makes a point of not presenting. Such a displacement in favor of an encompassing binary scheme, such a totalizing definition of order and interaction, whether evasively or not, triumphs in having the language handle a new, multiple Olympian scheme of myth. The earlier myth-system—Cimmerians and Circe and the Cyclops, Linos and Demeter and Dodona—is secondary, if powerful, in Homer, however many layers there may be under a given myth, and however long a time-span may cover the events that the poems telescope.
For the second stage to incorporate the unicity of the first, however, would always present a problem: as understanding and formulating the myth always does anyway. The Mother-goddess of the first phase, insofar as she is identified with the caves of Paleolithic home burial, may be identified with the tomb and the womb together. So long as the Mother holds a unicity of dominance over the drift of the hunting culture, the ambivalence of her sacredness is not faced: the terror in the erotic life, of child or adult, still mingles with the delight. But to the binary consciousness, terror and delight remain unstable even when they are coded. With Slater we may read this instability into Greek family life and Greek mythology as they reflect one another. In Greek mythology there is the unusually high incidence of powerful, threatening women, and the reactive pattern of suppressing them or sublimating them (“we find . . . Athene and Artemis being transformed, over the centuries, from mother-goddesses to youthful virgins,” p. 12); with consequent substitute formations in a mythology of adoptive homosexuality that embraces both Zeus (Ganymede, Pelops) and Achilles (Patroklos): “pederasty . . . became an almost vital institution, diluting the mother-son pathology, counteracting rivalry between father and son, and providing a substitute father-son bond” (p. 59).
In the given mythology itself, an instability resides between the emergent hero and the powerful woman: Perseus before Danae, Andromeda, and Medusa; Oedipus before the Sphinx who was summoned from distant Ethiopia to punish his father’s erotic pursuit of a boy, and then before Jocasta. Heracles, “the glory of Hera,” is threatened by Hera, and also pervasively in his marital stability as in his mind, a side of him emphasized by the recent compendium on him (Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl XIV, 1974, 185-190) as well as by Slater. The Python, like the dragon of Neumann’s widespread Ouroboros myth, while it has the phallic attributes of the snake, associates unstably, as the chthonic snake does, with the Mother (Fontenrose, pp. 21, 46-76): the drakaina nurses the monstrous Typhoeis (whom Hera bore), fusing three Mother-centered beings, since Typhoeis is planted deep in the earth at the base of a mountain, both earth and mountains being associated with the Mother (who herself shifts from person to process to ground in Hesiod’s account, Theog. 820-46). In the Philebus (12b) Plato produces an exchange where “pleasure (hedone) is her truest name” for Aphrodite, but Socrates replies by invoking his own fear in the face of the names of the gods.
That the dualities of mythography in the second phase cannot fully handle the dominant unicity of the first makes for a power in the myth as well as for incapacity in the language: something remains unexplained and unincorporated, persistently uncontained in the categories which from the beginning, at any phase, are devised to name the uncontained. A (hypothetical) first phase can often be traced in the psychology of anyone born of woman, with Neumann; and in the poetic activity designed to capture and order the force of the myth, with Graves (p. 9): “the language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honor of the Moon-goddess, or Muses, some of them dating from the Old Stone Age, and. . . . this remains the language of true poetry.”
However, the Mother, who dominates the first phase in the relation of myth to language, whose effect inhabits the unconscious of the psychic life, is always manifested only as a survival in the cultures of which we have any record, all of which have already entered the second phase of reciprocity, which assigns the function of some kind of writing to a given class. The record-keeping of Mycenean times certainly precedes Homer, and the “oral” Homeric text itself mentions writing, the mana-loaded or “dire” signs (semata lugra) carried by Bellerophon (Iliad 6.165. The word sema has a wide meaning in Homer.). Literacy itself, the abstract universalization of writing for theoretical functions, usually betokens the third phase found in “written” cultures (though my phases, as I sketch them, do not sharply divide at discernible times in the technology of writing). More exactly, the threshold of literacy usually betokens the second phase, a sensitized period when the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians, the ideograms of the Chinese, the runes of the Germanic north, the syllabary of the Phoenicians, or the developing alphabet of the Greeks characteristically accompany the codification of periods and cycles. Then come questions about the beginning, and so creation myths; the fact that creation myths deal with the beginning has led many thinkers to place them at the beginning of myth-making, in spite of the fact that there are no traces at all of construable creation myths in the first phase (when one could construe hunting rituals and sacrifices, with or without relation to the Mother).
In his own third-phase abstract questioning about pre-Homeric but post-Atlantic times, Plato speaks of men (Cridas 109d-110a) who are defined as being mountain dwellers and without any technique for writing (oreion kai agrammaton):
The names they were willing enough to give to their children; but the virtues and the laws of their predecessors, they know only by obscure traditions; and as they themselves and their children lacked for many generations the necessities of life, they directed their attention to the supply of their wants—Mythology and the inquiry into things ancient come into cities along with free time, when men see that the necessities of life are provided for.
Plato here links enabling mastery of the necessities of life (ta anankaia), much as Lévi-Strauss does—though of course without either the elaborate analysis or the logical connection—to the act of ordering myths reasonably (mythologia) and of inquiring into the far past.
Such an inquiry as Plato’s here, pursued systematically, takes us into a third phase of abstract sifting, a phase distinct from the second. The “inquiry” (anazetesis) of the Crítias is here a fair synonym for the “inquiry” (historie) of Herodotus, and the enterprise suggested as possible here is the one systematized by Herodotus, though he applied it more to recent events than to those of Plato’s remote antiquity (ton palaion).
The second phase is included, and subsumed wholly or partly in the abstraction of the third phase, so that Lévi-Strauss’s assertion of comprehensiveness for his myth-analysis does in fact have some force. Yet even in the second phase, to which his chief examples adhere, there is much room for manipulation. Day and night, tides and seasons, are reversed in the Salish land of the dead (HN, p. 405), which retains those cyclic and combinatory characteristics of ordinary economic and social life. So does the Land of the Dead in the Egypt of the Book of the Dead, which includes the second phase of a thought that is comparably cyclic and combinatory. Isis and Osiris do permute earth, sky, and water, in the patterns of a seasonal ritual. However, the Egyptian mythology also transvalues the reciprocities of the second phase into the abstractions of a third phase: in their Land of the Dead a different kind of pattern may also be apprehended, a predominant one. It is, to begin with, the boundary between life and death, and not that between nature and culture, which makes for the main distinction in Egyptian myth. The cyclic no longer predominates. What predominate, rather, are elaborate preparations whose exact fulfillment will guarantee the dead man’s participation in a society that resembles the earthly society in particulars, but which heightens and regularizes those particulars, placing a heavier emphasis on such terms as triumph, strength, vengeance, and the divine. The gods enter into combinations of remarkable abstractness and complexity, as do also the Sumerian gods. Man himself is organized as a fusion of several entities much more fully coordinated than the melea, the thymos, ker, psyche, and noos, of the human psychological plurality in the Homeric poems. In the Book of the Dead man has (Budge, pp. lviii-lxxiv) a khat or physical body, a sahu (spiritual body), an ab (heart), a ka (double), a ba (soul), a khaibit (shadow), a khu (intelligence), “a translucent intelligible casing or covering for the body,” and a sekhem or form, which persists in heaven, as does the ren, or name.
Lévi-Strauss has made the choice of further limiting his implied exclusivity of analysis by attending to just those aspects of the Western Hemisphere that are uncontaminated by development into a third phase, the period of reworking the dualities of myth and the systems of Ianguage into an overarching, self-consistent explanation. He deals only tangentially with the Aztecs, the Toltecs, the Incas, and the Mayans, all of whom evolved their second phase ‘binary’ mythology into the abstractness of what I am (hypothetically) calling a third phase. Nor will Lévi-Strauss deal with the Navajo mythology “not only because of its richness and complexity, but because successive generations of indigenous thinkers [italics mine] have elaborated it into a theological and liturgical form which profoundly modifies the perspective in which the analyst must place himself” (HN, p. 475). (“Must,” we would add, if he wishes not to account for other phases.) Still, at the same time Lévi-Strauss does posit an isomorphic didacticism between Navajo mythology and that of the Utes (and consequently with those of the whole hemisphere). However, since the Navajo are more conservative, having gone through less acculturation than other groups of North American Indians, it is possible that their “theology,” by carrying the myth over into a third phase of abstract comprehensiveness, preserves the full form of its mythologies, leaving as a diminished form the second-phase economic and technological and kinship orientations of the myths Lévi-Strauss analyzes. It is also possible, since he goes along with the nearly universal opinion that the Western Hemisphere was peopled by migrations across the Bering Strait, that the Navajos, who place a great emphasis on such female figures as Sky-Woman, preserve traces of the Paleolithic mother cult, of a first period too, something that other traditions, such as the matrilineal descent of the Iroquois (RC, p. 331), may also echo.
It would be wrong to call the third-phase Egyptian terms for man and his attributes simply abstractions. Rather, they are unambivalent general terms that subsume the entities of myth—the cow and the sun and all the others—and restructure them into a sort of homogeneity. The language exemplifies, and implicitly declares, the unity of the mythic perception, while standing off from the mythemes of the mythic story.
Egyptian myths provide the integers for the hieroglyphics that record the language, but only as a syllabary, wherein some elements are also soon phoneticized. Whether or not a given hieroglyphic has lost its pictorial character in favor of phonetic representation, the language now combines the hieroglyphics in patterns that draw on single elements of myth for their pictographs. Myth and history are still not differentiated. For Herodotus Arion is still on a par with Croesus, but inquiry (historie) dominates the linguistic terms, levelling them in a “third-phase” rigor and simplicity which may even be detected as far back as the comprehensive male-god dominations in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite mythology. Hindu Maya, and the yugas of macro-history would also be third-phase abstractions, where the complexities of myth have entered a simpler order, though only subsumptively: all the second-phase polytheism continues and is carried along. Complex, and distinguishable, formulations and attitudes towards the process of history were gradually developed over the slow transition from second to third phase in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Israel (Dentan). These were later refined into dialectical interpretations of time itself, notably in Greece by Plato and Aristotle but also by Gnostic Christianity, Islam, China, and India (Campbell). As Puech says of the Gnostic view (p. 40), “we might speak of a game among three opposing conceptions, the first representing time by a circle, the second by a straight line, the third by a broken line.”
This third phase is often labelled simply “the birth of philosophy.” This can be misleading, since it suggests a closed system for the abstract questions asked, rather than an exploration of the ways the abstractions restructure the mythic material, which can be taken to be logically as well as temporally prior to them. The jaguar, whose second-period manifestations Lévi-Strauss analyzes, would seem to have had a long history of pre-Columbian iconography. Its incorporation into the Aztec calendar both for a recursive day, Ocelotl, the fourteenth, of its twenty-day/thirteen day week, and as the third before our own of a macro-historical 676-year period, provides also a third-phase systematization of seasonal phenomena at once more abstract and simpler than the second-phase ones Lévi-Strauss discusses at such length.
The Oedipus myth is a second-phase phenomenon, susceptible to the sort of analysis Lévi-Strauss gives it. After the “birth of philosophy” in archaic Greece, it enters a different grid of identification, so that for Sophocles moral and intellectual questions, themselves identified, provide the definition for the mythic material which is conceived as feeding into them. Pindar (Olympian 2, 38-43) is one of the first to mention the life-course of Oedipus, who for Homer is just a hero who activated “a Mothers furies” (Odyssey 11. 280). The chorus of the Oedipus Rex closes with a big, unanswerable question about the meaning of the cycle of a unique life. To invoke Jolles again, the inverse of the myth is the riddle which, in Norse mythology, too, is a death test. Only very late in our accounts does the riddle of the Sphinx get any verbal formulations or solution. In Sophocles it remains a puzzle. As for the puzzle—in spatial terms, the maze—its solution or the quest out of a maze, them״ selves9 provide the sort of resumptive, simple terms by which linguistic structures, usually poetic ones, take over the mythic material.
Lévi-Strauss repeatedly goes to a late third-phase formulator, to Plutarch, for points not only about Greek myth but (a hundred years after the “Isis and Osiris” has ceased to be a truly primary source) for Egyptian myth as well. Detienne finds in the myths surrounding Adonis and the Phoenix something other than a seasonal myth; rather, a division between bread and perfume or necessity and luxury; thus he already offers terms that simplify by abstractions within “culture” the complexity of the mythic materials, even though he reproduces Lévi-Straussian contrastive diagrams for his components on the one hand and disavows as “ideology”—thus vainly trying to precipitate them away—all the spiritual correlatives of the phoenix on the other (p. 68). Samson’s reading of honey in the Bible as a riddle explaining and paralleling himself—the honey in the carcass of the lion for “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14.14) —offers a semi-abstract emblem that transforms a second-phase binary set, lion and honey no doubt functioning somewhat as jaguar and honey do in Lévi-Strauss’s interpretation.
The very exemplary comprehensiveness of Homer’s presentation of reciprocities and periodicities, culture reflecting nature and men reflecting gods, amounts to an abstract view of the second phase, one already on the way to something new. The third phase develops mainly in Greece, indeed, by resisting (and also, in this light, by furthering) the dominance of Homer. Apollo leaves Hector (Iliad 22.213) after Zeus has Hector’s fate fall in the scale-pan, and Athene deceives Hector by urging him to continue the fight (239-46), a deceit which he later recognizes. The reciprocities are those of a tribal culture; but the acts of understanding, and the complex interactions, are “psychological,” and to that degree they are abstract. They are in no way referred to reciprocities or periodicities, after the initial connection in which Zeus has been induced to favor Achilles instead of the Trojan, the beginning of this series. The fact that Hector himself recognizes the series shows his sophistication as well as his credulity. Similarly, the anthropomorphism in Homer, whereby the interactions among the gods are a distorted mirror of the social forces among humans, is more sophisticated than the dark dominance of pre-Olympian gods even while it is an instance of persisting pre-literate concretizing. Hector says, in the face of the observed portent when the eagle (bird of Zeus) drops the snake (of primordial chthonic force), “There is one bird־of־omen (oionos) best: to ward off for the fatherland’’ (Iliad 12.243). The abstract connection between the fatherland and the bird—here rendered as a metaphor or nonce-term for patriotism and tribal fidelity—itself amounts to an abstract thought, even to a touch of irony. This connection drops aside shortly when we are told that in trying to break the Achaian phalanx they “relied on the portents and on their might” (253), putting omen and personal force on an easy and unexamined par.
“Difficult it is for the gods to appear distinctly” (20.131), the poem says, and it maintains an unstable balance between the pattern of red-procities and the intense examination of them. The very act of trying to understand dark forces removes them from their darkness. Thus Homer through a nascent abstracting capacity renders the unknown that resides in the myth. He makes of the myth a way not given or predictable, but a free play of fixed forces. We know that Zeus is susceptible to influence, but not that Thetis will now prevail over him and now Hera, though the norms of daughters’ behavior towards fathers and of wives’ behavior towards husbands serve as guides, and revelations, for the individual instance.
Athene is in some ways an allegory of intelligence; Hypnos, sleep, is fully allegorical. Homer’s literary sophistication in constantly recombining events to create new structures evidences the exercise of abstract thinking. Notice for instance his including in his narrative the detail that when the embassy approaches Achilles in Book 9, he is playing the klea andron—celebrating the very glories of men that are Homer’s subject, and from which Achilles is absenting himself—on a lyre plundered from the sack of Andromache’s father’s city. Eetion’s own downfall in that very sack, as his bereft daughter Andromache has earlier said, intensifies her total wifely devotion to Hector, whom Achilles will also destroy once he has reentered the battle. In being recombined, these tribal ideas are already being transcended.
In the face of such sophisticated connections, and in the face of the fact that hoplite warfare would seem to have been introduced within decades of the final formulation of the poems, one cannot be confident that the fusion of societies over a millennium which Homer offers has the randomness of a similar, less complex fusion in the songs of the Yugoslav guslars, second-phase curiosities surviving on the margin of our fifth- or sixth-phase civilizations. As Snodgrass still further shows, Homer offers us what has to be taken as a conflation of different epochs in time. Homer’s time fusion presents a more complex picture than the simple ancestor sequence and blind anachronistic synchronicity an oral tribesman might recite. In the Homeric poems the idealized past would have had to be a partial, and differentiated, basis for the present there shown, if only because the poet carefully centers on a selected, compact time-scheme for the particular events of both Iliad and Odyssey.
The sense of alternate verbal expression as it coexists with formula in Homer, if applied to Homer’s poetry (as I and others have applied it, Cook 1966), may be taken for the beginning of a third-phase possibility (the alternate expression) on a second-phase base (the repository of formulas): “The tongue of mortals is twisted; there are many stories in it / Of all sorts, and much range on this side and on that” (Iliad 20.248-49). From the second phase on, it is in literature that the clearest interactions between myth and language occur.
A step further (or a step aside, for Hesiod, since the time of Herodotus, has been taken as contemporaneous with Homer) and we have the distinction between true and false as applied to poetry at the beginning of the Theogony (28). The focus of the Theogony on celestial phenomena, and of Works and Days on the management of the seasonal cycle, keeps Hesiod’s purview in the second phase, though the tendency towards allegorizing abstraction (as in his possible Babylonian originals), the classification of human existence into the non-cyclic protoanthropological phases of “the five ages of man” (Works and Days, 106-201), and the appearance of the allegorized Prometheus story in both poems all take on the abstract and reflective attributes of a third phase. The comparison of either Prometheus passage in Hesiod with any of the hundreds of myths recounted by Lévi-Strauss in the Mythologiques would throw this “new” abstract and reflective aspect into relief.
Texts vary in their relation to the religious institutions of the people among whom they were produced. Homer, in the theory of Rohde still affirmed by Nilsson (1952, 135-136), may well have neglected some aspects of contemporaneous religion; and he may have over-emphasized others by the very act of codification. His text, once it had come finally into being, had scriptural attributes, though it did not have the ritual function of the Rgveda, the eschatological-prescriptive character of The Book of The Dead, the elaborately institutionalized role of the Chinese Five Classics, or the enshrinement in the Temple and the attribution to divine inspiration of the Pentateuch. If I were trying to define the interchanges between language and religion, instead of those between Ianguage and the manifestations, intricately but not directly religious, of myth, then I would be obliged to focus on the distinctions between these various texts, each of them scripturally marked for particular kinds of significant linguistic exchange. As it is, they all share not only a common typology as “scriptures”; but, in terms of the hypothetical phases here outlined, they are all “second-phase” texts on the way towards the abstractness of a third phase. It may be, indeed, that this is the condition for a scripture’s coming-into-being. Even so, the third phase would be independent of Cassirer’s phase-definition (pp. 71-77), for Cassirer attributes “polynomy” uniformly to this phase. “Every deity unites in itself a wealth of attributes, which originally belonged to the special gods that have all been combined in one new god.” But there are cultural differences in “polynomy.” The elaborately substitutive Egyptian pantheon differs from the discretely named and only partially overlapping Greek gods. Then there is the rudimentary early Chinese mythology whose varieties very soon evolved into binary opposition (both sexual and abstract) between yin and yang—not to mention the severe and triumphant monotheistic Jahweh, abstract but personal, of the Old Testament.
Religion as a social institution makes the myth accessible to the individual psyche through ritual. Religion stabilizes. A text, in so far as it is scriptural, records that stability. But a text also provides, in stability, the ground for possible change. The Greek lyric poets do not have to perform the radical act of revising Homer that Heraclitus and Xenophanes felt it necessary to do. After the birth of philosophy, a permutation of philosophy into religion produces many odd fusions of phase, in such phenomena as the Gnostic notion that the First Man was androgynous, a notion with many parallels (Nock and Festugière 9: xx I. 9, 20): “Mind is god, being male-female (ho de Nous ho theos, arrenothēlusōn.Hermetica A9). Here the first phase of unicity—something like the phallic mother statues that Gimbutas describes and that Freud’s unconscious is said to image—and the second phase of binary reciprocity between male and female, and a third phase of “mind,” reassigning the abstract Nous of Plato and Aristotle to a mythical context, all converge in a harmony at once total and vapid.
The third, abstract phase undergoes various systematizations up to the Middle Ages. Philosophy after Plato, as part of its program, stays with abstractions. Literature, on the other hand, gains its force just from the evocation produced through the subsumption of earlier phases, from a sense of access to myth as well as from an understanding of myth. The Beatrice of Dante, like the Laura of Petrarch and the lady of all the troubadours, subsumes the Goddess and sublimates her through the Christian immortality of soul, the Christian equality of the souls of women, and the Christian emphasis on the virginity of the Mother (a major transmutation of the force of the Goddess into something both sublimated and abstract). In the Divina Commedia Dante organizes an approach to this exalted first-phase figure, using all the patterns of the second phase: a precise dating on the seasonal cycle, a precise set of locations in the cosmology, and an exact concurrence of Holy Week and Jubilee Year for the momentous journey. At the same time, of course, the overriding systematization, from the abstractness of the style to the sequence of theological categories and dialogues of philosophical definitions, concatenates the poem (with none of, say, Sophocles’ energie adaptiveness) into a third-phase coordination.
The assertion of congruence between a beloved object and the sense of the deity can be traced pervasively in many cultures, as Dronke has impressively done, going back to the Egyptian love lyric (I, p. 9). One may trace it back even further, conjecturally, to some form of the feeling for the Mother. Of course in moving ahead in time through abstract phases, as Dronke says when contrasting Byzantine love poems with Guinizelli, “the feeling is similar; the differences of expression are startling” (I, p. 58)—so startling that they may comprise a difference of feeling, a plane of Apollonian equanimity in which it would be possible to assert, with the early medieval lai de Г oiselet, “dieus et Amors sont d’un acort” (cited, p. 5). Dronke’s “mystic,” “noetic,” and “Sapiential” strains all become possible only in a third phase of trans-cyclic abstraction which had been firmly established in Egypt, his earliest example, for a good millennium by the time of the Chester Beatty Papyrus (1160 B.C.).
All these structures of expression are convergent in Dante, who radiates a feeling of plenitude that derives intellectually (Nardi, pp. 69-72) from Averroes’ notion of the sufficiency of knowledge to desire.10
When the act of language consciously allows for and virtually names, instead of merely subsuming, the unconscious element in the mythic process, we have already moved into a fourth period; or we can postulate one. The correspondences between myth and social fact are carefully preserved: in being preserved, they enter into delicate, ironic relations with the linguistic forms, which differ from them not only in constructing conscious accounts but in being both firmly sequent in a temporal order and rigorous in their linear conformity to rule. All the rationalizations of mythic forms in the Renaissance, from Pico della Mirandola possibly through Blake, are of a fourth period, distinct from Dante’s conscious restructuring of what he would not regard as unconscious, when the analogy—of the Sun to God, of Beatrice to St. John—carefully hypostasizes likeness (Cook 1966, pp. 222-28) and through careful rhetorical structures purges oppositions into hierarchical levels.
The allegorizing of the classical gods, which can be traced back to the Stoics (Seznec, p. 84, citing Decharme) is an enterprise of assimilation-by-abstraction, adapting classical gods to more abstract, conscious purposes. The long tradition of visual iconography allows for many conflations like those in the “Prudentia” or “Three Ages of Man” ascribed to Titian: “The first, borrowed from medieval morality, represents the three phases of Time as encompassed in Prudence; these are purely intellectual concepts, personified in human form. The second, issuing from the Oriental cults of the late Empire, depicts Time as a mythical force made up of three ravening beasts” (Seznec, p. 121, citing Panofsky).
The frequent references to “Venus’’ in Renaissance poetry, in Ronsard, and in Shakespeare take both the “intellectual” idea of love and the fact of love as a mythical force still further, beyond such allegorization; they subject the conflation of classical god with the feeling of love to the delicate, dissecting irony of poetic artifice, as though to say that the relations within the love-sphere are as delightfully formal as the very manner in which the poem at hand can attribute the name of a deity disbelieved by the poet to the idea of love and the force of love.
Such a displacement suggests the richness that love’s own displacements may delicately, and at the same time urgently, create. The Venus and Adonis, operating at every point in the self-delight of such a “fourth-phase” irony, hovers between being a case study in male passivity and a twitching of the veil over the mythic mystery. The terror of the boar in the poem—which is derived from, but also displaced from, the terror of the chthonic animal in the ritual hunt—is also tamed. The boar is prettified. The relation between love and death is desperate, as the poem keeps insisting, and at the same time it is virtual, as the net of artifice around the myth implies.
Such a deployment of contingencies does the fourth or “ironic” phase of the relation between myth and language permit. “I’ll say yon grey is not the morning’s eye, / ‘Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia’s brow” (Romeo and Juliet, II, v, 192-20). The lightness of the erotic and its urgency here both show in the virtuality of a moon-goddess, “Cynthia,” who cannot be wholly dissociated from the Mother, since she is seen as so encompassing that her mere reflection gives the grey light to the entire sky. Naming her underscores both the inventiveness and the falsehood of someone whose love even before Juliet was accompanied by a poetic effusion verging on vacuity.
This ironic shuttling between the main thrust of artifice-disbelief and a considerable byplay of communicative suggestion is already taken beyond Lyly in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Four of Shakespeare’s five last plays invoke only the pagan gods, with a consequent initial, and fundamental, irony of credence (Cook, 1976). The very raptness of the Emissaries to the oracle in The Winter’s Tale (III, i, 1-21) must be distanced by our near certainty that Shakespeare could not assign Credence to such a consultation. But the irony permutes, and we are further distanced, when Leontes is instantly punished by the death of his son for the statement of his own flat disbelief, “There is no truth at all i’ the oracle” (137)—though of course his refusal to believe is a moral act entailed by his denial of his queen, and the mystery of connection between the cyclic life of a ritualized king and his moral being is precisely the theme of the play. The cyclic life is evidenced not only by the pastoral of Act Four but aho by the fact that at the end this is the only one of all Shakespeare’s plays where the next generation—the son of one king and the daughter of another—take over to rule, in undeflected though deeply interrupted cyclic succession.
Shakespeare may well have learned the manipulation of such irony from Ovid, in whom this fourth phase of restructuring an abstracted mythology may be detected, as I shall later argue at length. But the overarching power of the Christian revelation mostly delayed until the Renaissance any further use of what is most essential in Ovid. His third״ phase feature of abstracting the mythology into near-allegory served just as a convenient moral repertory for the Ovide moralisé of the Middle Ages (Seznec, pp. 91ff).
The operations of language upon myth through flexible literary artifice become so delicate at this point that the delineation of phases is even more arbitrary. Still, when the irony becomes pervasive enough, it invades the syntactic assertions of the language, and we can say that the fourth phase gives way to a fifth, in which the irony self-consciously becomes a sort of paradigm, just as the third phase may be defined as the application of another reasoning process back to the myths (rather than a Lévi-Straussian binary extension of the myths by complementarities of stories that keep filling in the contradictions). In the fifth phase not only the myths themselves but the process of myth formation may come under examination. This is the time when both anthropology and the depth psychology of the “unconscious before Freud” came into being, characteristically by examining and interpreting the body of myth. In one sense this enterprise continues the Poetic Theology of Pico della Mirandola, and Romantic attitudes do tend to intensify Renaissance attitudes (Cook, Thresholds, forthcoming). But there is a difference. Pico merely wished to apply his abstractions to the classical gods, taking their accessibility to allegorization as a justification for their identification with an intellectual process. His suspension between disbelief and belief, his “functionalism” with respect to the classical myths, could be translated into the cursory irony of Ronsard or Shakespeare.
In Blake, however, there is no suspension. The act of language selfironically provides ironic combinations for the entities of myth. Blake both derives these figures from his long tradition and invents them through a quasi-theologized inspiration.
More sternly logical than any poet, let alone the playful Ovid, Saint Augustine believed in the classical gods; he believed that for the most part they were devils masked under the classical names. Petrarch and Pico della Mirandola, on the other hand, did not believe in their real existence, but in their function as naming psychological and spiritual states. Typological interpretation of the Bible since Philo and before, expanded to become the fourfold series (literal, allegorical, moral, anagogical) adapted by Dante, became the vehicle for extending the allegorical reading from scripture to everyday life. Milton only complicates and virtualizes these procedures, and his long poems exist rhetorically as commentary on Scripture.
Blake transforms all these modes of relating an implied language of statement to myth. It cannot be said that he believes in his Zoas, as Saint Augustine or Milton or even Blake himself believes Scripture. Yet it cannot be said that he disbelieves in them. Nor are these entities exactly masks for devils or psychological states: rather they are revelations of the spiritual powers and psychological states themselves.The Four Zoas is not a commentary on Scripture, but a sort of transposition of scripture-like meanings into a different form which Blake believes has the force of scripture in any case. And still The Four Zoas is legitimized by a scriptural epigraph, given in Greek as though to insist on its literal origins, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12).
Irony can be made to serve, in Blake’s prose, as a transform between belief and disbelief. Consider the following sequence of Blake’s abstractions, which proceed from the Bible, where myths have maximum Credence:
As a new heaven is begun, and it is now thirty-three years since its advent: the Eternal Hell revives.
And lo! Swedenborg is the Angel sitting at the tomb; his writings are the linen clothes folded up. Now is the dominion of Edom, & the return of Adam into Paradise;
see Isaiah XXIV & XXV Chap:
Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is Heaven, Evil is Hell
. . . . .
The voice of the Devil
All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following errors.
1. That man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, called Evil, is alone from the Body. & that Reason, called Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies. But the following Contraries to these are True.
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plates 3 and 4 (Erdman p. 34).
Here the law of contraries, felt since Heraclitus to be intimately bound up with a rejection of myth and with a re-definition of its proper role, is at once adduced and violated. For Devil read Angel and for Good read Evil. Yet this irony, which rests on turning normal terms topsyturvy (an extreme of the normal ironic statement, saying the opposite of what is meant), rests on an entirely different assertion of “contraries,” one based on the ambivalence of mythic entities and their reflection and/or source in the psychic life of the unconscious (Cook 4), where indeed love and hate for the same object at the same time can coexist. Blake would go further and assert that this kind of contrary coexistence is necessary to progression.
Here we have an ambivalence of Blake’s own towards the Devil (really an angel) who scorns the “Bibles or sacred codes’’ which produce what the “Devil” calls “error.” However, the Devil also adduces the principle of Contraries, which has just been brought in as essential by Blake, implying that the second set of three propositions above is true and the first, Bible-derived set false—a mutual exclusion which establishes the logical law of contraries rather than the Blakean law of Contraries-for-the-sake-of-progression. Taken this way, the “Devil,” though a source of the key Blake maxim, “Energy is Eternal Delight,” is himself not (ironically) an Angel, but diabolical in his violation of the key Blakean law. He is Urizen (Your-reason).
Moreover, all these contradictions—subtler than the law of contraries as here stated may allow for without recombination—are in a sense applied to the beginning of these statements. Blake is ambivalent, and ambivalent in his very ambivalence, towards the Swedenborg who is introduced here as an “Angel” associable to either the “new heaven” or the “Eternal Hell” (either successive or contrarily complementary simultaneous entities). Blake’s allegorical interpretation of Swedenborg’s relation to the events surrounding the Resurrection is at once a biasphemy and a sort of apocalypse, as the reversion to Old Testament prophecy underscores (“Now is the dominion of Edom”) and the seemingly undercutting and overriding authoritative earnestness of the scriptural quotation from Isaiah.
Isaiah 24 and 25 are a prophecy-lament for an Israel in desolation, an equivalent for Blake’s “dark Satanic mills,” here brought in obliquely so as not to overwhelm the possibilities of ironic definition. These ironies at once replace and reaffirm the Christian Bible, by assigning plus words to minus valuation, angel and heaven to devil and hell. This is done in such a way as to conflate the values. So Blake’s title indicates —through a metaphor which is drawn from Old Testament typology (Israel as an unfaithful wife in the prophets) and New (the Church as the bride of Christ).
Even in prose Blake does not offer a simple ironic reversal. In the Marriage some of the same terms are used unironically. In particular the references to Christ and the Judgment seem to stand in a sort of suspension between ironic and unironic uses. Nor can it be said that the ironic application of a term like angel randomly occurs in context with the unironic use, since the effect is to produce a sort of endless series.
The process of using contraries to undermine the principle of contrades is reminiscent of Heraclitus, but Blake goes farther, interfusing mythic evocations with his interpretations as he goes on to produce the Prophetic Books.
Wagner, too, may be said, without all Blake’s intricacy of definition or his fertility at recreating a mythology, to operate in such a fifth phase of the relation between myth and language, a phase that may be called paradigmatic because the main action of all Blake’s prophetic books is to work through and test out combinations of abstractly defined mythic entities. The leitmotif is not ironic: it is at once wordless and combinatory, and Lévi-Strauss himself—not in what he analyzes, but in the procedure of his own analysis—is comparably paradigmatic, and belongs to the fifth phase. In fact he repeatedly compares himself to Wagner, and asserts his derivation from Freud and Marx. Marx’s prophetic use of Hegel, and the inclusion of a Utopia myth (not too different from the second-phase Hesiod, or Genesis, or Book of Manu) in a historical-dialectical paradigm, may be associated to the fifth phase, though the reference to myth in Marx is only vestigial. Prometheus, to be sure, holds meaning for him. In Freud, however, myth is essential: without the equivalent of Oedipus, no unconscious; without the paradigm of analysis, no explanation of its mechanisms of evolution.
In the speed-up of modern times the phases could come on more quickly, and we may differentiate still further a sixth hypothetical phase, in which the paradigmatic activity of the fifth phase is itself subjected to reexamination and set to work reflexively so as to produce, even at random, new “mythic” combinations in language. Some such intention lay behind the harnessing of the unconscious by the programmatic surrealists. Here the act of language, by buckling with, and buckling under to, the unconscious determinants of the process of language, at once celebrates and questions the theoretical foundations of both myth and language, triumphantly reconnecting them in an act of dissolution. Such a series of transformations—a paradigm of a paradigm—Per Aage Brandt finds implicitly to underlie surrealism as it harnesses the conscious law of contradiction to move up and down his defined levels of verbalization and the unconscious: the text, sleep, and dream.
Consider the very possibility that such a poem as this one by the surrealist Benjamin Péret could exist:
26 POINTS A PRÉCISER
A André Masson.
A comparable strategy in this sixth or transumptive phase is that of D.H. Lawrence. While he is of course no surrealist, there is a constant undercurrent of subliminal reactions that governs the actions of the characters in his novel. They themselves discuss the paradigms of interaction, evoking or submitting to the mythic forces whose flow they in some sense determine. Personal identity and fusion into the anonymity of Man or Woman stand in a constant dialectic, awareness of which is necessary in order to survive. The later Lawrence tipped the scale towards anonymity and celebrated the dissolution of a woman’s identity into anonymous Woman. But the protagonists of Women in Love and The Rainbow would have insisted on the permutability of the terms, and the process is one for which the culminating visual image of the rainbow may be taken to stand: the possibility of a realized future hinging on the proper combinations of the past. As all the phases are subsumed in the transumptive sixth phase, one may find not only the seasonal-binary of the second phase here and the abstract discourse of the third, the ironies of the fourth phase become the paradigms of the fifth. One may also, and still, see in Woman the Goddess of the first phase, doubly operative as a pervasive survival and as an element for recombination, as Rachel Levy’s title can be taken to suggest, “Religious Conceptions of the Stone Age and Their Influence on European Thought.” The influence persists; nothing is ever lost. The Paleolithic itself may be exalted, as Gary Snyder has done, citing the larger brain-size of Paleolithic man and basing pieces of a credo on practices hypothesized by anthropologists.
On such a vitality of origins did Charles Olson insist, to take still another sixth-phase practitioner. In his critical writings, what I have called the transumptive process admits of a “proprioceptive” reconstructuring of its entities, into pairs of fourfold attributes (1, p. 12): millennia (field), process (act), time (quantity; spatialization of society into the demographic and technological), and result (person). Here the figures of myth are rounded out to the abstractions of social and psychological theory. In Olson’s system there remains of myth only its axis of combination—and axes are also pivotal in Lévi-Strauss’s reading of myth. The procedure underlying myth is not transposed into a third-phase abstract philosophy but itself used for a sort of transumptive myth-making, an energie mediation between myth and language where the story-properties of myth have been stripped away while the canons of logic are used only for their combinatory energy.
The aphorisms of Nietzsche have a comparable structure of mediation, and in this abstract typology of phases he, too, like Blake, could be assumed into the transumptive, sixth phase. Nietzsche’s aphorisms, however, unlike Blake’s, are reflexively self-critical of the act of language itself. They both overshoot the function of language and fall short of it, without direct recourse to the myths he scorned Wagner for investing with too full a credence. He preserves the myth, the lion or the camel of Zarathustra or Zarathustra himself, only for short-term and casual interaction between myth and language.
This practice had already begun during the powerful transition in Greece from the Homeric world to that of pre-Socratic philosophy. Nietzsche could well have subscribed to many of the aphorisms of Heraclitus, whom he frequently mentions. In this connection, for the relation of myth to language, he himself could well have said (though no doubt more ironically than Heraclitus): “Hen to sophon mounon legesthai ouk ethelei kai ethelei Zenos onoma.” (The wise is one thing alone; it does not wish and wishes to be called the name of Zeus.) (Diels 22. В 32). The aphorism of more than merely proverbial weight was invented by Heraclitus in Greece, and perhaps also by Confucius in China. For Heraclitus it went hand in hand with a powerful “bracketing” of myth. The aphorism gained philosophical power as it transmuted the relation between myth and language. The “language games” and aphoristic paragraphs of Wittgenstein continue this process, inescapably.