Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Dream-Poetry and Books That Choose Their Owners

Holed up at the parents in Lincolnshire. A fog has descended on the small town of Stamford, but i doubt that will stop me and my father striding out into the sharp air and onto the Toby Norris pub for Lagavulin and pork scratchings by an open fire, discussions strictly and only concerning St. John of the Cross and New Orleans funk drumming. I have finally picked up a copy of "Medieval Dream-Poetry" by A.C. Spearing at a wonderfully old, old school bookshop in the town of Uppingham. A tower of rooms, curly steep stairs laden with esoteric texts from big hitters like Boethius and Alanus - stick in an expresso machine and hog-roast and i'd never leave. Super helpful too. A book certainly for the school of myth reading list, but fairly specialist, so tread carefully.
Magical moment of the yule time was buying a copy of 'Moortown' by my old favourite Ted Hughes in an Charity shop - when settling down with a beer to read it i found that its previous owner was none other than storyteller HUGH LUPTON -one of the UK's premier leaders in the field. We had actually discussed Hughes with much enthusiasm
at last August's Westcountry Storytelling Festival. The chances of picking up the book in a rainy backstreet 300 miles from home must be slight, to say the least. Something shall come from it.
I am very pleased to drop in some new work from the brilliant Daniel Deardorff this week - i will return the compliment soon on the 'Associative Mythology' blogspot - please sign up to it!

Archegestic Resonance, Rites of Passage, and the Dancing Ground of Radical Uncertainty
Posted on December 29, 2010 by Daniel Deardorff

The biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen investigated instinctual responses to particular “stimuli”; response behaviors arising neurologically from, what he termed an “innate releasing mechanism.” As a simple example, we know that human infants are biologically prepared to learn language. The stimuli provided in the vocalizations of the mother; with sufficient stimulus the infant is flooded with a desire to respond in kind (Dissanayake). The stimuli, or “sign” triggers the “innate releasing mechanism” (Tinbergen).

Joseph Campbell was very interested in Tinbergen’s ideas. Campbell saw the “mythic image” as a sort of super stimuli.

The performing bees, birds, fish, or quadrupeds are moved spontaneously from centers of memory antecedent to their own lives. Through each, the species speaks. And since in human traditional rites spontaneous collective responses to formalized displays occur, the earliest creators of the myths and rites of primitive mankind may not have been individuals at all, but the genes of the species. And since in human traditional rites also a certain psychological readiness to respond to specific sign stimuli is to be remarked–particularly among primitives–the earliest individual creators of myths and rites must not have been merely freely inventive fantasists, but inward-gazing, inward-listening seers (shamans), responding to some inner voice or movement of the species.
—Joseph Campbell

The “inner movement of the species” urges the “actions” and “enactments” of response to the mythic image. Before this discussion can move forward, it is necessary to emphasize the centrality of the term “image”; which must not be confused or conflated with symbols, signs, or concepts. These re-present something which is not present, whereas the image presents itself as itself. The mythic image is multivocal; that is, it speaks, sings, and resonates with multiple and contrary associations. Victor Turner recognized the potency of the deep-image calling them “dominant symbols”:

I discovered that what I called dominant or pivotal symbols …were not only possessors of multiple meanings but also had the property of polarization…. It is interesting to me that a dominant [bipolar] symbol—every ritual system has several of them—should replicate in its structural and semantic make-up what are coming to be seen as key neurological features of the brain and central nervous system.
—Victor Turner

Every ritual system has them! What is being suggested here is that the mythic, or deep image, by virtue of its multivocal resonance triggers a biomythic response in the individual. The motivational power of such an image lies in it’s correspondence with something usually termed “archetypal.”

The term archetype is insufficient, for just as designation impedes discernment, the “type” impedes connection to the arche. The arche in archetype refers to the archai, these are defined variously as “universal principles,” or “original forms,” or “fundamental essences,” and finally as “primordial forces that animate creation.” Universal? Yes, but principles? No. Original? Of course, but forms? Certainly not. Fundamental essences? Please. Primordial forces that animate? Very good.
The notion of archegestic energies or resonance arose during the writing of The Other Within. It seemed to me that the types had become more and more fixed, and that the action or dance of the arche was obscured by the literalized form. Hence, I needed a verb to describe the turning—the epistrophés and peripéteias—between us and the formlessness of the archai. As James Hillman has it:

By attempting the congruities between the imagination of the individual human soul with the imaginal patterns that myths call Gods, an archetypal therapy attempts … an epistrophé of the entire civilization to its root sources, its archai. This reversion begins where the Gods are fallen, where depth psychology has always worked with its eye attentive to the ugly.
—James Hillman

The peripéteia or epistrophé is the crucial moment in the initiatory process, when the initiand turns from the old life and encounters the primordial forces of the archai, as the ancient Taoist sages said of this moment, here one sees their face before they had a face.

To recreate rites of passage without the use of the deep mythic image is a betrayal of the soul’s request to receive an authentic and authoritative ritual of transformation.

From the perspective of associative mythology both the narratives of myth and the enactments of ritual are productions of the mythopoeic intelligence. In this view the efficacy of myth and ritual depend on a certain intimate disclosure of something archegestic. In such a biomythic moment the individual experiences a softening of boundaries: “the root of the ceremonial rites of all human societies, from the most primitive to the most exalted, are an elaboration of the neurobiological need of all living things to escape the limiting boundaries of the self” (Andrew Newberg).
Archegestic action in myth and ritual—including all the arts—is restorative in the sense of Eliade’s idea of “the recapitulation of the archetypal gesture.” That is by our participation in the time of first things we tap that energy and through our actions we are renewed and so renew the world—the ever unfolding enfolding dance of creation. In this understanding myth and ritual sing, by a creative participation in originary events, essential to the ongoing life of all things.
The archegestic action of deep images in the story told, in the myth as sung, bring the participants—the teller and the hearer—into the living presence of the originary time. We do not go back in time, but awaken to the presence of the past. In the Birth of Taliesin, when the initiand Gwion Bach takes the three drops of wisdom he becomes instantly aware of past, present, and future; this is the archegestic moment. Mythic time is a spiral, in every direction events intersect. Like the resonating strings of a great harp, the strings present the interval between oppositions. We enter the temple, the tempo of mythic time by passing between the demonic guardians of the threshold. The threshold is uncertain, radically so, there is no other way in. After all, if one is not on the dancing ground of radical uncertainty, one is not really on the ground.


Ellen Dissanayake, “Antecedents of the Temporal Arts in Early Mother-Infant Interaction,” The Origins of Music eds. Nils L. Wallin, Bjiorn Merker, and Steven Brown, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000)

Nikolaas Tinbergen, The Study of Instinct (New York: Oxford UP, 1969)

Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology (New York: Penguin Arkana, 1968) p. 672

Victor Turner, The Anthropology of Performance (New York: PAJ Publications, 1987) pp. 174-75.

James Hillman, The Thought of the Heart & the Soul of the World (Dallas: Spring Publications, Inc. 1981, 1982) pp. 58-59.

Andrew Newberg, M.D., Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science & the Biology of Belief (New York: Ballantine, 2001) p. 85.

© 2010, Daniel Deardorff. All rights reserved.← The Mythopoeic Intelligence
Archegestic Resonance, Rites of Passage, and the Dancing Ground of Radical Uncertainty

Saturday, 18 December 2010



Argh. Beefheart died. Found out late last night. Love him, his paintings, his music. So, Don Van Vliet, we at the School wish you safe passage to a land of good natured pythons, crows colored white, cadmium red sunsets and tequila filled hot springs. You the man.'s an old interview with one of all my all time favourites. Lots of love myth -teller, rattle shaking raven blues magician.

don van vliet is a truly rare phenomenon in these specialized times: an artist who excels in two different fields. as captain beefheart, van vliet wrote, sang, and played (on the saxophone, harmonica, piano, and guitar) some of the gutsiest music and lyrics heard from the mid 1960s through the early 1980s. together with his magic band he gave the world a series of groundbreaking, idiosyncratic free-form rock albums, like 'safe as milk' (1967), 'trout mask replica' (1969), 'lick my decals off, baby' (1970), 'clear spot' (1973), 'doc at the radar station' (1980), and 'ice cream for crow' (1982), that have since become classics.

along with his musical career - and especially after it, since by the early '80s van vliet had begun to retire from music - he has been making art, painting and sculpting with the same energy that was typical of his performances. this month, the michael werner gallery, new york, presents a show of van vliet's recent paintings and drawings.

inspired by mississippi delta blues, post-bebop jazz, and even, it seems, dadaist principles of nonsense, van vliet's free-wheeling beefheart lyrics and atonal compositions were deeply influential to many musicians of his generation. but van vliet is modest: when asked why his albums were so provocative when they first appeared, he says that everyone 'took me too seriously back then. they couldn't understand that i was just teasing'.

as a visual artist, van vliet is just as unassumingly visionary. on canvas he delineates an expressive array of scratchy marks, squiggles, pictographic images and abstract glyphs until a vivid domain emerges in thick patches of paint - a constantly changing world, populated by such real and imaginary creatures as crows, angels, turtles, human beings, and buzzards, where people are just another form of life. in paint he now reveals the sentient creatures who inhabit that cacophonous landscape inside himself that used to be revealed through music.

today, at fifty, van vliet lives with his wife jan in trinidad, california, a small coastal town of about 150 [inhabitants] near the oregon border. when i spoke to him, he was in his studio, preparing for the werner show in new york. still an iconoclast, whose throaty voice sounds like a cross between a goblin and a grizzly bear, van vliet gives forth in conversation verbal rifts and free associations that are as memorable as his songs.


i hear you spend most of your time painting and watching movies. what do you do - go get tapes at your local video store?

no, i'm afraid to. i'm afraid i'll see a dead head (fan of the pop group 'grateful dead' - t.t.). there's lots of them up here. damn garcia, what's he doing? he looks like gabby hayes (who? - teejo).

don't people come to see you? someone told me that the german artist a. r. penck came out to your house.

yeah, he's wonderful. you know, he can blow some pretty good drums. he first heard my music while he was living in east berlin (in the former communistic part of germany - t.t.). he was in a jazz band then and had to pay an exorbitant amount for my records. that's one of the reasons we got together: music and painting. he knew my music and wanted to see my paintings - i had an image of one of them on an album cover ('green tom' on 'shiny beast (bat chain puller)' - t.t).

he came out here and danced all night. i told him that all he needed to do to please me was wear a panama hat, like brian donlevy wore in 'dangerous assignment'. you've ever seen that? the scene where the knife makes this noise going into the wall? donlevy ducks under it, and he's wearing this hat and these incredible epaulets. that was some pretty good dressing.

what other movies have you been watching?

buñuel's 'exterminating angel'. i've watched that one 150 times, and it gets better and better and better. i think buñuel was the most profound director who ever lived. the first part, with the steps going up, is incredible. when the chick is cutting her toenails, sitting on the stool, she's hideous. you can see her crack open as she is cutting them, one by one. that's buñuel's way of disrobing people. isn't imagination wonderful?

yeah, it is.

yeah, it's all we have now. do you believe that war that went on, that 'desert swirl' (the war against saddam hussein, actual code name 'desert storm' - t.t.)?

yeah, i believe it because it happened. this photographer friend of mine, a vietnam veteran, went up to washington when there was a big parade for desert storm. he said he went to the vietnam memorial wall and stayed there for twenty-four hours, taking photographs. i asked him if anything happened, and he said: 'yeah, these guys put up a banner welcoming home soldiers from kuwait and me and my buddies tore it down. i told some colonel who got mad at us that they got their parade but the wall is ours.'

good for him. that's the problem: too many old boys. oh, wait a minute. i just got a title for my painting: 'too many chrome old boys'.

picture by dan winters

that's great. so you get the title first and then the painting?

usually, yeah. but this time was a strange time. it's hip to talk to somebody that tips.


yeah. you're tipping in (laughs). so what do you want to write about this old fool for?

old fool?

i'm fifty years out.

you know, penck said: 'it gets better after fifty'.

do you know what he told me? 'whiskey hurts my finger.' that's really hip, i said: 'your finger or your fingers?' he said: 'my finger'.

you've been painting a lot?

i've been painting four days straight. i finished two paintings in the last couple of days. i won, i actually did something i liked. and that's unusual.

four days straight? haven't you got any sleep?

no, i don't need any. i've been feeding on fumes - or dying from them. but it's fun while it lasts.

do you often paint like that, for a few days in a row?

oh, yeah.

so it's sort of like music - you know, like jamming? you just keep going?

it's different. but, you know, a lot of people can't hear my paintings.

they don't hear your paintings?

no, and they should be able to. god knows, they're noisy enough.

you've got to be noisy in this world at this point.

isn't that the truth?

you once said you felt like an alien on this planet.


and now you live in this house overlooking the ocean, far from the madding crowd.

yeah. i look out my window and the blue devil looks right back at me. the house is 135 feet (40 meters) from the ocean, so it could do a number. you know, i don't have to eat any salt. i just absorb it by osmosis. buying this land is the only right thing i've ever done.

do you ever feel like you have cut yourself off from the world?

no, i got more into it.

painting seems to be your way of learning more about how you see and hear and feel the world you're in. how long have you been investigating the world like that?

i started drawing and painting when i was young. first time i played a harmonica, i was three. boom, boom, boom. then i learned how to bend notes at four. my grandfather played harmonica, by the way. he was good - amos vertenor warfield. he was second cousin to the gold digger who got that english guy to give up the throne. i started painting and drawing and making sculpture at around the same time. i couldn't help myself. i was possessed.

cats got his tail - 1985 - oil on wood - 97 x 122 cm
so what's painting to you?

wait a second. let me read you something: 'fulfilling the absence of space between the opposite meanings'. i think that's essentially what i think. that came the other night. it came blasting into my head. i quickly wrote it down. yes, that's what painting is.

i heard you used to draw while you were performing onstage.

why not? fuck them. what did they want to see me do? i wasn't going to let the audience interrupt me. one of the band members would be doing a long solo, and what was i going to do? stand there? i would get my stuff and begin drawing. i couldn't waste time.

what about the people who collect your work? do you know any of them? are they an interruption?

i am friends with my dealer, michael werner, but i don't want to look at the others. when i was in los angeles, an artist, ed ruscha, bought some stuff - he was nice. i finish doing a painting, and that's it until the next grasp of the brush.

so you're not coming to new york for your show.

no, i can't stand that place. what they think is dust is actually human skin. oh, god, you got to take fifty baths a day. how can you stand it? i don't like flying either, not since reagan got rid of all the air-traffic controllers. besides, i can't paint in airplanes, i can't paint in hotels.

what would you do if you did come to new york?

go to the museum of modern art and see mondrian's 'broadway boogie-woogie'. it's so good you can hear the horns honk. and look at the stuff they have by franz kline and van gogh. hey, i hear you're a poet.

that's true. well, you're a poet too, aren't you?

yeah, i'm a capricorn. i have too much corn in my cap.

and your favorite poet is philip larkin?

oh, yeah, absolutely. you know, larkin worked as a librarian in hull, england, and he loved jazz.

have you ever read his music reviews? he loved duke ellington and count basie, but he hated charlie parker. he thought bebop was gibberish.

yeah, well, the best he could do was dig music that cantered around the room. but did you ever hear someone talk about musicians like philip larkin? use such grisly language? i've been reading a lot of larkin. it's funny, the things you find when you retire. i never got to do anything when i was playing. i didn't get to read, i didn't see movies. remember that album roland kirk did, 'volunteered slavery'? i was a slave. so i retired. i had to. i got too good on the horn and i got to the point where i thought i would blow my head right off. so i started a second life.

Monday, 6 December 2010


Well, winter has finally arrived in Devon. I have braved the school run over to Dulcie's seat of knowledge - taken them (three red faced little charmers) the safe, less icy route, then slid down the black sheets on the embedded back lanes on the solo route home. We have a full house for this weekend's 'Trickster Myth' gathering of the year course, up in the snowy wastes of Dartmoor.
I am still working on those essay deadlines, but come next Tuesday all should be done. Had time to make some new paintings- see above. They are about 4ftx4ft, (bar the green one which is bigger) and still wet with oil. At the same time i have heavily revised "A Branch From The Lightning Tree" for its spring release on White Cloud Press. All has been tightened up, with about a new third added - specifically on the nature of myth - telling.
I am also delighted to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ted Hughes, Galway Kinnell, Silvia Plath, Pablo Neruda and many others in a new poetry anthology about the mighty pig, " LOW DOWN AND COMING ON" ed. James P. Lenfestey on Red Dragonfly Press - just out. I will try and post the cover up. let's move from my humble scribbles to a real poet, Galway himself.

The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.