STRUGGLING WITH THE TWO LANGUAGES?
What does it mean when a writer like Paulo Coehlo talks Good and Evil, God and the Devil, and says that the world, even the Universe needs renewing? Are those abstract truths, and is human consciousness really evolving or renewing itself in each generation? Now at the seeming risk of destroying the Planet, that has its own natural kinds of renewal, losing belief in any firm ground, constantly mishearing each other, or seeing world events that might make the strictest atheist declare “but for the love of God!”
Is Coehlo’s a process of pure metaphor, inside fables and storytelling, or working on the level of actual parable? He would have to be in touch with God if it was. Coehlo writes fiction, but literally speaks of miraculous waters and events too, as over centuries mankind has believed in them, and what is now explicable was once very literally miraculous, and still might be. As indeed that best prevailing metaphor of religion, light, is so often reflected in the psychological intensities, especially in fear or threat, and revelations of art and painting. He is also a Catholic, youthfully having dabbled with Satanism, but is he really talking about something inside mind itself, or external power and reality? It is a constant Religious theme that it is belief in extremis that somehow does miracles, though the Buddha is said to have left his print in a rock.
Most children experience storytelling, religious, magical or secular, not as story first, but as literal truth, before the process starts of distinguishing, and then perhaps banishment from the lot, like Adam and Eve from Eden, into the harsh ‘real world’ of an adult. Is more ‘primitive’ Religious storytelling then to be equated with the more innocent or simpler state of the child, while now we are all supposedly in the nasty, modern adult world? Is a child’s consciousness actually a purer kind of consciousness, of a world that every child experiences itself as being part of some universal whole, and then must separate from? All great children’s fantasy though is about the potential loss of God and magic, and of the magical psychic powers inside ourselves.
What does it mean when we talk very importantly in the every day about being rational, logical, controlled or indeed scientific, not needing a Spiritual or God language, yet higher science presents us with such extraordinary truths and perceptions too, far beyond the ordinarily or obviously rational? Which we cannot get our ordinary heads around, in trying to describe and define reality. Perhaps that is the source of so much longing and mishearing too, especially when we approach words like love, trust and faith. Indeed the fact that the language of the psyche, conscious and unconscious mind, is somehow a disaster, just in chains to the supposedly rational. The rational can justify all kinds of horror too. We are human but animal too and also capable of going on the most enormous imaginative journeys. We might as well wipe away story, poetry, love, song and art, the ‘magic’ of old, and childhood too, although of course science becomes part of a ‘culture’ as well.
What does it mean when a writer like Peter Ackroyd says he wants to be in only his own religious camp, but knows there are forces ‘out there’ we have now idea about yet? He has a marvellous phrase too, delivered by a fine fiction writer, as well as essayist, in his biography of Shakespeare. About it being impossible that Shakespeare somehow lied about a very happy rural childhood, that breathes through his work, drawing on the power of nature, fact and metaphor, without there having been some serious psychic disturbance on the surface. Shakespeare did experience serious psychic disturbances, but not in the plays that seem to draw on childhood experience, even if children are remarkably absent from plays more about how adults do or don’t get to the unions that create them – “Go play, boy, play.”
The Two Languages
It means that there are two essential languages, profoundly at odds, or in crisis these days, that are not helped by crazy fundamentalists, trying to lay down Sharia laws, and offended by all the effective miracles of the scientific West, but nor completely dismissable by smug scientists, nor atheists either, the the freedom to believe or know is vital. Einstein spoke the essential linguistic paradox or richness, seeing how strange and extraordinary it really is, when he said “you can either see everything as a miracle, or nothing as,” But then perhaps his language had just passed into the metaphorical expression of a different kind of wonder and seeing. What it is to ‘see’ space-time, or journey out through space in imagination before fact, or understand Quantum Mechanics and the interrelation of energy and matter or the nature of light.
Perhaps it speaks of Hamlet’s dismissal of “words, words, words” themselves, in his case in trying to seek the best and vital action, so challenged by real life in that England relocated to his “Denmark’s a prison”. As science’s major concern is not how you describe reality in metaphorical words, although that’s involved far more than you might think, and Mendeleev is supposed to have solved the Periodic Table in a dream, but experiment, and so testing, proving and reproving what is taking place at an actual level, that builds an independent language around it. Science is method first, then accumulated knowledge, but no great scientist would make the mistake of saying it is not very much about imagination too, and building and rebuilding realities in your head. Perhaps it is only ever about significant paradigm shifts that open up whole new worlds.
Science is a language that cannot allow for miracles though, even as it achieves them, to more primitive societies anyhow, and must push back the boundaries of superstition, even as it discovers the more and more extraordinary and inexplicable. Unless you are somehow scientifically trying to prove the existence of ‘God’. So, if you have gone beyond established Religion, you come to ideas like “holistic relativity”, namely that there is some kind of ‘moral’ related to energy itself, linked to the way that consciousness creates value judgements, or tells and retells stories about us. It might also be expressed in ideas like Chaos Theory and The Butterfly Effect, giving us a responsibility far beyond our immediate selves.
But a spiritual, or even religious language, whether you mean established religion or ancient myth, indeed magic, either as truth or just a story of Man’s psychic journey in the world, before we could create the rational language to label and deconstruct both experience and the perception of it, is the very stuff of storytelling and literature, religious or secular.
It is imaginative and emotional first, and deals most essentially in terms like love, hope, belief, spirit, or indeed kinds of human faith in other, or each other, even if nowadays, in the West, deconstructed as purely biological processes. How impoverished we would be though without such a undeconstructed language, a purer or more original language, and no less important in our everyday interactions with each other than knowing how the fridge works? In fact just walking down the street involves acts of faith, even if you have a problem in studies on story like Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots that he is essentially a Jungian himself, and so trying to prove a school of thought.
But perhaps the question is could consciousness have evolved out of an animal state, which certainly involves being conscious, if not quite self-aware, although animals experience shame too, without somehow conceiving ‘God’, whether the word for it came first or later? A consciousness first defined as feeling, instinct and sensation perhaps, the grunt of being out of the dark, but essential to evolving primates too. The God in the animal itself, defined first in male terms of The Father, but then in far more explosive terms as God of everything there is. In the beginning was the word…
No, surely in the beginning was the void and energy, but in the beginning of fully conscious Man, as we talk of Man, certainly, then God through naming and storytelling too. Unless of course you accept the very literal proposition that the word became flesh, though surely the point is still the word first, and language itself.
Of course there are many great Science Fiction stories, but fiction and literature are how a deeper understanding of each other, and indeed of language itself, hence its evolution into higher and shared metaphor, is hammered out, evolves and is shared culturally too. Just as we perceive our own lives best as narrative line. Obviously story is a part of our experience too, beyond everyday experiences around us, in the metaphors of fiction, great or small, crossing into reflections of reality, and the interrelation between worlds, inside and out. Inside and out being outside the story, but in and outside people’s consciousness and emotions in that story and the every day. Writers above all experience that sensation of somehow being inside and outside events, and their own work too, but so do we all. It can cause that raised eye problem that you get in films too, when you see the words “This is a true story”.
So to Joseph Campbell’s odd remark in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, to the effect that “the only true sin is to speak from the two worlds at the same time”. What on earth does that mean? It might echo Hamlet’s hyper rational “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” , set against his essentially human and moral “I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, had I not bad dreams.”
Campbell may be making the mistake of mixing metaphors, yet what he is really trying to do, as someone attempting to turn the study of cultures and faiths into a kind of science, that he insists repeat worldwide, is speaking of things he understands intuitively, as reader of religious stories, myths and fables, but reinterpreting them as public essayist, writer, to approach an evolution of human thinking and understanding. The tension between the two is manifest, as the best fantasy creates a tension between real and fictional worlds. Just as Jung tried to make the ‘science’ of psychology, which may essentially be just an art, a primarily spiritual exploration, because he thought man essentially spiritual.
The two worlds at the same time? Perhaps in scientific terms that ‘sin’ might involve the basic truth of matter, as we are matter, our thinking about matter, then thinking about matter somehow thinking about itself! The viewer affects the experiment too, according to Quantum law, but perhaps the ‘sin’ of the scientist, as opposed to how his work is perceived or really affects in the world, is just being a bad one.
In human terms it might be being in love, perceived first as spiritual even holy state, and being outside that state again, then stepping between the two. In mythological terms it might be taking story, operating on some supra cultural level, as literal fact, yet somehow trying to prove it as part of the story itself. That was the ‘sin’ that took place at Phoenix Ark, with awful consequences, although when you have struggled with animal nature and ideas of good and evil, then get so horribly labelled by people you loved and needed, the greatest sin was at a publisher in America.
In Hamlet’s terms it is knowing that purely rationally, indeed scientifically, nothing is good or bad, because matter ostensibly defies value judgements, but that human’s are moral beings, who need some spiritual and ethical language and reality. Indeed need love and friendship, as much as food, water and sunlight. He spends the entire play trying not to commit a sin, or ask if sin exists, but it leads to tragedy anyway.
The point isn’t whether Joseph Campbell succeeds or not in his own attempts at some kind of proof though, especially if the process is underway anyway, or he is just writing stuff caught between imagination and study. But that there is an obvious crisis taking place now, as Hamlet’s crisis of supreme awareness was voiced at the cusp of religious Reformation here, four hundred years ago. Not a crisis for people who just get on as they do, and believe or know what they do, but at a higher cultural and social level.
Then and Now
A play has many voices in it, not necessarily interpretable in what you think a playwright is ‘saying’, but Hamlet talks directly of that brick-wall that causes it all, our own deaths, out of the mysteries of birth and consciousness, but then “that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns,” puzzling the will. That place you cannot prove scientifically, or think beyond, as Wittgenstein said “death is not part of the experience of life.” While simultaneously just having seen a ghost on stage though, in the form of Hamlet’s father, just back from his metaphysical journeying.
Of course it’s art, while paradox is an essential part of perceiving and exploring, living too, but especially creating art and fiction, that speaks with the force of actuality, more immediate and important than kitchen sink ‘truths’. But Shakespeare also had the most extraordinary awareness of his own psychic and creative processes, and protecting them too, at the completely instinctive level. He was not exactly studying himself as he wrote but wholly aware. So he has Hamlet speak to the ghost on a stage, or under it, stamping on his head on a literal stage trap door, “how now old mole?”. He is creating a drama, allowing representation of the possibly fictional, but also walking around the echo chambers of his own imagination, indeed psyche.
Just as Macbeth, the play, highlights the importance of that drunken porter, “Remember the porter”, as a kind of literal doorkeeper and doorway. While, surrounded by the language of witchcraft and evil, a very real thing under King James I, a psychic hell is unleashed on stage, and in the marvellous words of the characters, and a protagonist finds that in himself and others “Macbeth hath murdered sleep”.
Madness is of course also a state that haunts Macbeth and Hamlet too and comes true in Ophelia’s grief, and Lady Macbeth’s nightmares. A potential state written right across that most shattering and human play of them all, King Lear. “Oh fool, let me not be mad, not mad” that seems so much about splitting male and female energy and value. In The Winter’s Tale Polixenes’ collapse is an extraordinarily modern representation of today’s Nervous Breakdown.
It all speaks more of Jung than Freud though, of some experience of the whole Self, so balanced in Shakespeare, even Jung’s archetypes and Universal Unconscious, that Jung describes as a most gigantic world. So a source of enormous creative energy and vision, not limited by purely ‘scientific’ language. While the playwright to an extent had to live each of those characters into being, Shakespeare in cultural time was on a journey towards a world of modern psychology, but in his living world of Eros and Psyche, still and so far more liberated.
But Shakespeare turns away from murderous Reformation battles, namely overtly and literal religious thinking and conflict, or the kind of revolts and disasters of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, bringing up dangerous charges of heresy in real life, by summoning his own metaphors for the seismic battles inside and out, in his very fabulous and dislocated The Tempest.
Where, as Peter Ackroyd suggests of John Dee putting aside his own Elizabethan books, in real life too, his necromancies, Shakespeare rejects the Occult, very active then and meaning literally what’s hidden from the eyes, yet knows so much about magic and what’s hidden too. So he produces the healing if fragile visions of a Prospero, the master magician and literal hope of life and prosperity. Most of Shakespeare’s sprites and fairies too are not located in official church conflicts or doctrine, but in the deep folk-lore of the English imagination. Indeed it is the characters in his plays who touch or are feigning madness, who speak so wildly and tormentedly of Biblical demons and Heavens and Hells.
Prospero who, spending so much time in his Plato-like cave, breaks his staff and drowns his bookes too, to cross the void between two worlds, find resolution and speak to a living audience and the future. Who does not speak of God and the Devil directly, but accepts both the Caliban in the human, and in himself, “that thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”, which religion might call demons,and then psychologists the demons and phantasms within.
But who summons his Ariel too, and emerges as a man and less tyrannical father, having mastered the magic of his own play, and all the characters inside it, with God-like or magic power. In the head, the isle is indeed full of noises, memories, people and magic too. He does not speak from two worlds at the same time, then, nor confuse fiction and fact, even if the Religious fact in the real outside world might now be described as pure fiction by many, he understands the magic of himself in a theatre and the fragile curtain of art, raised for an audience’s use in the ‘real world’. But if Shakespeare had not found his art, or his own direction in that art at The Globe, he might very easily have gone mad himself and the imaginative journey he took is staggering.
There is a brilliant little book by an American Jungian, Frank F Johnson, called He – Understanding Male Psychology. While elsewhere Johnson talks, rightly or wrongly, about Hamlet representing a sea-change in male or indeed human consciousness, at a crisis point too, in this little gem he talks about the medieval myth of Parsifal and the search for the Holy Grail. It retells the story of The Fisher King, and how he is wounded in his genital, creative manhood, when he comes into contact with a symbol of Christ, and effectively religious consciousness itself, that we all experience if only in Childhood, burning his lips on a roasting fish, but also during a battle with the more sensual, sexual ‘East’. It is perhaps the battle of moralities and primal life forces, that becomes Historical cliche or symbolic journey.
How Parsifal then sets out to find the holy grail for betrayed Arthur, perhaps a metaphor for life itself, and finds the Grail Castle. But fails to heal the wounded Fisher King, who can no longer drink from the holy cup, because he does not ask the right question, while he is inside the magical castle itself. So it all vanishes, like a strange and beautiful dream, filled with knights, fair maidens and heroic quests, and Parsifal is left in exile for twenty years, of dearth and famine in the outside world, but clearly reflecting the interior loss of magic too. A kind of magic we all find in ourselves at certain times, which Shakespeare profoundly express in his astonishing output, as he “conceives it so”, and the loss of which can be the road to a real hell inside, and round about.
Johnson talks about how in so many stories the sinister though is literally flagged by things associated with the left, as opposed to that prevailing metaphor of God and the right, almost as completion and wholeness. The New Jerusalem out of the Felix Culpa, the happy fall of the Catholic Church. Of course the suggestion is that the sinister, occult journey is inside the psyche itself, where all sorts of dark and primal forces lurk, perhaps just out of the structure of the Reptilian brain, like the power of Caliban, or the flights of Ariel.
It would be to brand Man the Devil himself though to suggest that the unconscious or darker psyche was the Devil though, or pure evil, though some have believed in possession and still do, and as Johnson says, in a religious scheme of things presumably God himself will redeem the fallen angel one day. Indeed, in William Blake’s terms, in his Marriage of Heaven and Hell, that ‘rebel angel’ is Lucifer, the light bringer, and in Johnson’s terms a source of vital creative energy, that he suggests Goethe literally walks on stage, with his different Dr Faustus, in the form of Mephistopheles and his fiery dog. Manipulative, ruthless, utterly cynical, but brilliant and virtually all-powerful Mephistopheles, a vitally creative ‘God’ nonetheless. Johnson suggests it is then Goethe’s profound genius, or perhaps part of a long cultural process, to redeem the Devil himself, by having him acknowledge the strangeness of Man, in the love of the abused but devoted prostitute Gretchen for Faust. An act of faith itself. So all the psychic battles of Man are taken out of the hands of the Church. Goethe, who lived in Rome.
There’s another writer called Peter Kingsley though, who in a little book about what he thinks the sacred origins of Western Culture, before rational Socrates and Plato, In the Dark Places of Wisdom, suggests there is somewhere else too, neither quite fiction, nor quite fact either. He talks of the dream lairs of ancient healers, that were real places in ancient Greece too, in caves and underground temples.
They are all of course words on a page, held in the flickering perceptions of how we use and understand them, but words and thought surely have a strange inter-relation with ourselves and with matter. They must do if language can evolve to define matter so precisely at a physical level, and then create machines that control it, but which also draw us in, like the Internet, TV, Film, to completely different experiences of reality, in the everyday world surrounding us. Part real, physical world, part virtual world of the mind. That’s even ignoring the fact that aspects of telepathy, even precogniton, are as hard to dismiss as the patterns of dreams and shared stories, or as the discoveries of science at very counter intuitive levels.
As for two languages, could there be a Shakespeare today, with our all-consuming scientific and codifying language, and how can such conflicts be resolved? Is the way just pure science, and not the language of stories, that are so deep in Man? Johnson suggests someone has to pick up the story of Parsifal and great a Mythic story again, that can then speak beyond immediate conflicts. Are we really so advanced from what we think primitive civilisations though, or indeed sophisticated ancient ones, namely somehow evolving to far higher mind?
Evolving to some consciousness that can really understand and speak beyond opposition, of man’s real control of the Godlike power now, that science has allotted to or found in itself? Not just using the tools of science but connecting it with the magic inside ourselves? Do we have to take sides in one camp or the other, reunite the two, even at the risk of committing a kind of sin in even trying it, or find a completely different path? In Eastern philosophies the powerful creative conflicts of God or the Devil, Good and Evil opposites, language itself creates or personifies, are relocated into ideas like Creation and Destruction, or even Yin and Yang, but are completely inseparable and in continuous movement. It is again why Peter Kingsley reminds that Occult traditions have been suppressed as evil.
Perhaps the best united language just asks the question, but suggests don’t just believe – know. If Faith itself very obviously requires belief, or you respond more directly to metaphorical language, perhaps just get on with it, although allow some room for what you are trying to believe in nowadays. In the recent drama on TV about Darwin’s crisis, the cure came when his doctor told him to have faith in whatever he was doing, and in his case could prove scientifically too, so not commit the life Sin, the being without, of believe in nothing at all. Supposedly scientists know science is ‘truer’ than belief, even when intuited belief and imagination pushes them through the borders of current reality, or indeed when laws seem to break down on the edges of Black Holes. As storytellers know fiction can be more true or real than ordinary fact. It is obviously better to be a Prospero than a Dr Faustus though, one lost to his own communion with the growing Hell of himself, and seeing dreams of Helen vanish in handful of dust, but the other reconnecting with life and throwing his power into an unknown faith in the future. It demands, in every life, “brave New Worlds, that hath such people in it.” If so, know with the humility that defies the fundamentalist, but marvels at the best scientists too.
ps Just to lighten up a bit, what’s Hamlet’s best Irish Joke? – “Now might I do it, pat.”
PA PRESS 2012