Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Promiscuity of Myth,the Emboldenment of Literature

Above is some small evidence that i'm painting again. I thought i'd drop in more of the essay i'm working on (see Boxing with Barthes below for another segment). It's just starting to poke around the ground of myth, storytelling and literature..grab a map,coat, and coffee, its a longish one.

(Side note:knee deep in Heinrich Zimmer at the moment, i would recommend his 'the King and the Corpse: Tales of the Soul's Conquest of Evil', especially his defence of the dillettante)

OK, lets have a look

I think that the oral tradition and literature are lively but ultimately complementary bed fellows. They resemble my earlier illustration of the Rhizomic and the Olympian universes’s (jump into Delueze and Guattari for more on the rhizomic);

'The rhizome is a plant root system that grows by accretion rather than any separate or oppositional means. There is no defined center to the structure, it doesn’t relate to any generative model. Each part remains in stems'. (13) Author, Lightning Tree, p 125

The oral tradition has this mischevious spirit, pulling the rug from ‘thou shalt’ every time we think we have the definitive version of a story. Has anyone had the definitive view of a waterfall? Or the red shinned Hawk?

'Coyote’s movement through the worlds is both potent and fractured..he diffuses righteousness, laughs at tribalism, steals fire from the gods and is ever present as circumstance, cultures and weather patterns jostle with the inevitable changes of time. We know that Coyote is a decentralized zone, that his life force exists in the tip of his nose and tail,not the broad central plain. We see he is elusive in texture and not located in geographical location or specific point in history but remains epistemic.Brian Maussmi refers to his footprints as nomadic thought'. (14) author,Ibid, p124.

DIFFERENT MAGICS:Pen as Wand, Voice as Spell.

However, it is almost entirely due to literature that we have these stories at all, so it is an ungenerous and blind alley to attack it too harshly. A tension does arise in the aspiration of both mediums however. Literature has always defined, marked out and emboldend both the author and culture it arises from. In the deliberate assembledge of words an agender appears, an agender that is some how vacumn packed and pristine within the mind of the writer. It raises a story into the air so that its roots dangle self consciously for the mythologist to examine rather than remaining in the tangled understory of its natural habitat.

Of course the issue of ownership arises, the compartmentalising of wild image, the aspiration of empire. We have the strange thought of the upheaval and then preservation of oral stories in the literary tradition of the conquerors. We feel the grief but also a gratitude that we are able to enjoy them at all, even if it feels we are peering through glass.

Myth offers secret histories; the geographical and political developments of a particular region; even when we encounter effectively the same story in a variety of regions, certain moments will rise and fall in emphasis, which offer valuable perspectives on the concerns and desires of that culture, as opposed to their neighbours.

We sense the strongly muscled history of literature losing these inflections; There is only one version of'The Serpent and the Bear', this is its only interpretation. The story now bears the ambition of the writer, often without others in the
communuity who have held the story most of their lives. Stories can get awfully cold when held up in this way.

Living in the air
I was a storyteller a long time before I was a writer or mythologist. Stories have always felt warm and robust; the rule being, rather like cooking, you can add one element to the receipe, nomally something subtle. I never memorise stories like a script, but describe the moving images I see. This rule of possible addition is not something I would apply to great sagas like the Upanishads or Beowulf, but in more local stories and told over time, some strange fiery detail floats up from the unconscious and adds itself to your telling of the story. A storyteller needs something of the loyal, monkish transcriber and the nimble pirate, singing at the moon.

There is an inherent relationship in actually telling the stories that changes your dialogue entirely,the whole affair becomes less precious but more sacred. A triad of possibility opens up between you, the story and the listener that is different to the hermetic intimacy of reading. When you read it is a journey entirely inwards, moved downwards on the winds of the authors ideas blowing the sails of your imagination. Much of the work has already been done; many novels will carry much description of the characters, the authors thoughts distilled to a polished tip of eloquence.

We want silence, some internal stretching, comfort, any number of things.With storytelling the experience is different. For a start it is communal; even if we don’t know the person next to us we are aware of bodies, opinions, mass. The room is full of histories.

I have often told stories on the sides of mountains, by fires, with dogs loping around and cats peering in, in Yurts with rain thrashing the canvas,in lecture theatres, in deserts, by oceans, in deep, bear laden forests, in a Brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. Always people, animals, tears, conjecture, animation- the weather of the room won’t allow ‘the one true version’.I’ve told stories to the dying, the rich, world leaders, medicine people and at risk-youth, Pueblo, Welsh, African, Lakota, Tibetan, English, Russian, Mayan, Scottish, Romanian and Irish. No one has ever failed to enter the story or been anything but delighted when they found an element from their own culture. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve told stories badly plenty of times, but what I do trust is this enherently triadic relationship between the teller, the myth world and the listener. Something happens.

For a start the listener has to work harder, to push further with their imagination. The story will give less descriptive details of the characters, especially when we are in the realm of dieties. So the visual perception of the audience is pronounced, if called upon all know the shade of the wild third daughters hair, the exact part of the chest the spear entered, the colour of Finns tunic. Their eyes may sometimes be closed but they are extremely active. So the story as Coyote ambles through the many cultures present and offers each a glimpse of the living story; one saw the brush of tail, another a flash of teeth, another a row of nipples, another a laughing eye.

In the racous, poingnant and often intense conversing that follows the story it serves as container, better still a cauldron, for all the inner worlds awoken.The myth is unshakled and prowling, wary of the snares of dry analysis but fed by the visioning of the one-night communitas.

The storyteller will be awash with the images that arise from the audience,they are like waves coming back at you, with seaweed rope that comes from the depths of that individual. The ritual question is normally simple; ‘What caught you? Where are you in the story right now? Did you ever pick a thorn from your fathers hand?

This is is no way an attempt to diminish or make entirely personal a story;that is not their sole function, but it is a part. I have never encountered a group that had much problem with the idea that the myths both referred to them and had some elemental life that was entirely their own. The psyche seems to settle into that quickly, and jumps happily between its differing emphasis. So, to clarify:

1. By not learning a story as a script you enable it psychic movement, it is in relationship to the environment, the fire, the audience. It will never be told in quite the same way and is in lively accord with the moment. The moment is not Barthes’s ‘time of sarcasm’, but the eternal ‘once upon, beside and underneath a time’. This invocational quality should not be mere rhetoric but a stepping beyond our normal frame of reference and receptivity.

What you lose in polish you can gain authentic dialogue; and this is something also sensed in the listener-this is not acting. This is ancient image coming of the tongue in a new and sometime uncertain expressions.It is far more connected to the inner life of the storyteller than the cluster of techniques they may have aqquired to hold an audiences attention. The words should feel at home in the atmosphere of the teller, that some integration is present.

At the same time we are looking to feel more than personality: we are looking to see who or what stands behind them. What powers will step into the room?

This all is implicit of receptivity in the storyteller; we sense not a braggard but a limping visionary. The receptivity lives in the story that chose to be told in the first place, the awareness of atmosphere and audience, the openess to the wild insights and emotions of the participants, the honouring of all the men and women who have told this story long before you and will after you.

So we are not impacting a story in concrete, but bearing witness; allowing the wingtips of our imagination to brush the hoofs and cloak of the Otherworld-this is the place of beaches-between the ocean and the soil.

2. Rather than attempting to wrestle a shape on the story let in live in the room. Let it find a wider body in the intesity of the audiences response,their passion or annoyance. The storyteller has every right to offer insights, should indeed be encouraged to do so, but the story needs a larger confluence. In the triad configuration some surprise waits that the story, teller or participant could never have anticipated! This surprise-an observation or insight-is all part of the life preserving aspect of myth, that it is once again living right in the heart of things.

Without these two elements that loosen the grip of control, we risk (as is often the case) word perfect ‘preservations’ of story, with a fixed destination and an uncomfortable sense of excavated ground-like peering into a Pharoahs tomb as the guide shines his flashlight. In this world the storyteller nervously fingers their script as they try not to offend the anthropologists.

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