ONE:

A first common-or-garden view: take Myth as belief not founded on what Science calls “empirical fact.” Even if “empirical fact” retreats ad infinitum, Myth is dubbed false. Push this as far as it can go and all belief is Myth and false. That is: unproductive of any kind of understanding or wisdom and unconnected with any form of “salvation.”

Another view — from Anthropology. Myth, by formulating a belief about certain social facts, tending to resolve contradictions observed by empiricists in those social facts, enables a society to survive despite some of its structures being inefficacious. On a more superficial level, Myth provides explanations of cosmology and history that people can live with and believe to a greater or lesser extent in order to understand why they are alive.

A third view from Poetics. Myth is the enabling of Hope. And Poetry (together, inevitably, with Music) is the absolute incarnation of Hope, the only purely hopeful activity known to the human species. Hope here is not Hope for, as in prayer, it is spes aeternae bent in upon itself without object.

It has to be that, initially, someone or some noticed that a plant dies, remains dead for a season and returns to life. The astonishment of that reappearance continues with us even today. It is no wonder that Persephone, her transform Eurydice and her identity in virtually all cultures is the first myth. She is thereby compelled to be the myth of lyric poetry. But, as with any unknown, anxiety, angst, persists in the waiting. Some societies have fed the sun for centuries so that it could be reborn day after day. The most basic relationship: angst and food. Persephone’s mother is Ceres.

 

TWO:

Try, as an exercise, to give credence to the ancients who held that most things, if not all, are probably parts of a whole greater than themselves. While we sometimes enjoy the possibility of verifying that certain things are parts of a whole and that this whole incorporates no other things than those, we live most of our lives uncertain as to whether we know, recognize, possess, or have some sort of control over, all of the parts composing any given whole. The Age of Angst — a carry-on from the “Age of Anxiety” because it is also the “Age of Information,” aka Infoglut, is one in which that uncertainty has grown to such a pitch that there is too much suicide of one kind or another on this planet. This includes the great extinctions. It is imperative that this ignorance should be diminished.

Uncertainty/Unknown: the two are very close. One way of playing at attenuating the uncertainty — or tolerating the unknown (it comes to that) — is to suppose that time and space, especially time, are illusory. It follows that more or less everything must be happening at the same moment in the same spot or, to put it another way, in some vast simultaneity. This ensures that some of the parts may remain acceptably unknown until further notice while not losing their place. Also that the sum total of phenomena amounts to Justice. Persephone underground is unknown and invisible but, after a long time in individual or social life, acceptably so. Persephone, in truth, is always present.

True poets working from head and heart — as opposed to “writers” working mainly from head — have the capacity to prophesy (to speak from a no-time and a no-place) which permits them to give no more credit to time and space than is strictly necessary: André Breton with his point at which all contradictions can be said to end and can be resolved, or William Carlos Williams whose vital moment, the “it” of his ardent chase and purchase, closes in so much upon itself as to exclude those fearful dimensions.

 

THREE:

Take a major religious instance of uncertainty: in the debate between one existence and many. Is Persephone a somewhat different Persephone each year or the same one? Do we have just this existence or do we,  in one manner or another have many (every level of sophistication is permitted here), and thus somehow “reincarnate”? In the first possibility there appears to be so much injustice that the weight or lack of weight of the known components in any one existence may or should become intolerable. The only acceptable possibility then would be that each being reincarnates and that each of its existences would be so related to every other in a chain that the total existence of that being, and even more so its species, would end up by making sense and by being acceptable. This, however, calls for such a massiveness in the unknown that it strains most credibilities.

Consider this last alternative. Since only a being that might be hypothesized as all-knowing or “completely enlightened” can, in most multi-existence philosophies, know its past incarnations (and, probably, its future ones) it is such a being that has to end up defining the whole. Unenlightened beings must lead, in a state of ignorance, whichever existence this present one happens to be — merely trusting, however, that there is some meaningful relation between (should it be the case) all the existences in one series. The belief helps maintain a sense of Justice, aka a sense of Hope, for it would be unthinkable that a number of existences (parts) lived one after the other would not eventually tally into one great, good and meaningful life (whole).  The contrary would move us from the intolerable into the chaotic and absurd or, translating, into the insane. Thus if every existence-series ends up as one great, good and meaningful life, there need be no strain in proceeding to think of the compatibility of all lives – and we can go back (or forward) to merely wondering what is the point of such an orchestration of perfection — if point there is to anything at all.

The poet, as the incarnation of the ever-hopeful, is what the human is generally speaking: Persephone. It is a hard task: going down and coming up again in the everlasting elevator. Poetry then is the privileged place in which the suggestibility of the unknown parts of any whole becomes so potent that we speak/write as if the unknown were equal in opportunities to the known: i.e. as if the unknown, in the last resort, were the known and could rise to the surface of consciousness as such. Which is, again, a sine qua non of Hope, namely prophecy.

 

FOUR:

Now suppose that someone, after a lifetime of trying to understand the world within a given mythical structure, were to issue upon a sense that not only could no one tell anything about the truth or untruth of that structure but that nothing of the sort could ever be told by anyone whomsoever. The  someone would be suffering “agnosticism.” Not “atheism” mind you — for that term does imply a judgment whereas judgment seems in this case to be impossible. This would leave our  someone with the question as to what could be the reason for the immensity of the known and unknown universe, an immensity to which it is necessary for most men to be empirically blind on pain of losing sanity. Added to which the feeling persists that a “reason” there must be if the word “meaning” can still respect itself.

The search for an unknown or unknowable “reason” would also in this case mesh with the increasing conviction that virtually all socio-cultural myths put forth to date are infantile — if not evidence of mental incapacity or even mental illness. Some, of course, are a little less infantile than others. Overall this is exasperating but there is no alternative to accepting that exasperation and living in the mode of “as if”: one continues to live as if   life had meaning without being able to tell if it has or not.

One thing does occur. Is such a situation, the “isness of is” appears more and more strongly “to be the case.” The contemporary poem containing all past, present and future, as initiated by the Pound-HD- Duncan-Williams lineage,  is a flowering of that “case.” In addition to uncountable weeds, there is a vast field of innumerable flowers to be enjoyed. It is the last manifestation of Hope in this fallen world. I have always sensed that Poetry without “Hope” was simply impossible. Which, one assumes, is what Adorno meant. I write as if   I were hopeful. This at the very least, continues to compel my interest.

One life only / many lives of one life — this, of course, is a contradiction, is, in fact, a myth. Holding this pair in mind as a dialectic of Hope while also refusing to entertain the expectation of an answer (the great Indian Tantric practitioner Tilopa’s (988-1069) injunction “Immanence without Expectations” is an almost unbelievably hard demand) can be a resolution which helps an individual to function, i.e. to remain sane. True Poetry is the activity which manifests that sanity: Poetry too is myth.

 

FIVE:

We have left belief rather far behind. The above argument seems to suggest that belief is not always absolutely necessary to being alive. Yet belief is pervasive. I have always felt that belief in a power above the human arose primarily out of the need felt by so many to be looked after. Religion, in other words is consolation. If it is believed that a higher being — of whatever system, whatever name, whatever kind — is necessary to anyone’s or everyone’s sense that life should exhibit some kind of meaning held in the hands of such a being more powerful than oneself, then there is a possible move forward. Humanity has devoted a prodigious, incalculable amount of time and of means to the continued existence of religion: in belief systems but also in devoted work: the building of religious edifices; the building of colleges, hospitals, foundations ad infinitum; the missionary efforts of millions: there is no end to the expense and the effort.

It is becoming ever clearer in our moment that there is one thing which is essential to our existence: the Planet. Some have suggested that it is a Being. If all the belief, ritual, work, duty, expense were to be channeled into one divinity — that divinity would reasonably and legitimately be Gaia and none else. An incalculable amount of stupidity and, indeed, excremental criminality would attempt to counter such a nomination. But: the human race, right now, needs saving and not “salvation.” Saving the Planet would be a path to follow with some legitimate and reasonable hope of success.