Friday, 15 April 2011

Oil on Canvas, 4ft by 5ft, 2010

Navaho drum patterns and Who b-sides - a conversation with Joe Strummer.

Ancient Greece was very Rock'n' Roll

I found this momento last week (lost and almost binned between two other pieces of paper) of the very first time writing a book was mentioned - at this very dinner. When Strummer suggests something is a good idea you tended to pay attention, I was still living up in the tent at that time, so i had been picking the straw out of that panama hat. We were a bottle into some very good french red and east African Funk is chugging along in the background. An informed man - lots of love Joe, whatever pirate ship you are sailing through this inky black and wine-rich universe on.

is the link to a YOUTUBE clip on the inspiration behind the new book. There are others if you just type in 'Martin Shaw mythologist' - please check them out, pass them on, get them moving or join us on our Facebook westcountry school of myth page.

I am up to Dartmoor in a few hrs to begin the school's PARZIVAL weekend - car is full of paraffin lamps, wine, lots of Islamic poetry, chocolate and one black bear skin. If you can get to the Blytheswood hostel on the road between Mortonhampstead and Exeter by 8'oclock this evening we could just squeeze you in.

I am laying out another excerpt from the book below and will add more soon!
Adios amigos,

In the myth world, Apollo is an example of a young leader society could still just about swallow. Seen in Greece as the God of the Sun, he strides about, instructing us,“Nothing in excess.” His name carries associations of brightness, purity, the whiteness of swan’s wings, advancement of medicines and the laying down of laws. He also rides the approval of his father Zeus, as the favorite son. A player of the lyre, his music is perceived to calm the most ferocious beast, to transform wildness into a passive and benign state. Every botched business decision, ecological crisis, messy break-up he experiences is viewed from an enigmatic distance, where his feathers never catch in the tricky glue of emotion. He is corporate man, par excellence; lacking the terrifying swings of Zeus’s temperament, he remains in control: early to bed, early to rise. His love of logic and clarity are presented to us as soon as we enter nursery or primary education as a defining way of being in the world. Universities, media, and in- dustry are fueled by a hundred million little versions of this energy field. When you imagine his face, what can you see? I see a kind of glowing and cheekbones.

When we think of Jung’s statement,“Man doesn’t become enlight- ened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious,”4 we become grateful that there are other gods in the Greek pantheon. The question is, has anyone told society at large? The characteristics of a person under the thrall of Hermes will almost always be perceived as muddy, unclear, and morally dubious next to the impersonal radiance of Apollo. Like a kind of mythic robocop, Apollo men are enforcers of a senatorial consciousness received from their fathers. Firmly in the Descartian camp (as much as a god can be), they can create conditions of ecological havoc. Some gods originate from beneath the soil, but not this one.

Sky men and women proliferate in leadership. Although they may possess the organizational skills, discipline, and logic to suc ceed, we sense something terribly thin in them. It’s as if their shoes are the only thing stopping them from floating several inches above the ground. They don’t engage the earth somehow. I recently gave a lecture to leaders from around the world on mythological thinking. As long as there were handouts and coffee, things went well. However, when we moved into the realm of grief and loss as part of the leader’s lot, the room fell oppressively silent. Five minutes before, all were offering very informed perspectives on the subject, but when it turned inward, to intimate material, nothing. I was practically hounded out of the venue.

For them to admit difficulty, or confusion, meant instant loss of status in the group. The branding power of potential shame was too intense to risk vulnerability. To speak openly would appear to be “confessing.” Interestingly, six stayed to talk after the end of the rather fraught lecture. Given a more secure space, they freely ranged into a conversation of great depth and feeling.
Culturally we like to assume our artists (from a distance) are disciples of a very different god, Dionysus.

Dionysus is another son of Zeus, but one who canters through rain-washed valleys while Apollo flies overhead. At first glance, Dionysus appears almost diametrically opposed to Apollo. He is associated with the inebriation of wine, the rupture of mystical experience, the timelessness of love- making and spasmodic,crazed,passionateoutbursts.Weknowthat at the moment of his mother Semele’s death, Zeus tore Dionysus from her womb and sewed him into his own thigh, where he grew till birth. This strange, auspicious incubation points to a kind of unexpected nurture on the part of Zeus. A fascinating conjecture is that the name Dionysus may mean “Zeus Limp”—Zeus’s wounded aspect manifested in this particular son.

Dionysus leads a trail thick with both murder and ecstasy. He is dangerous, conflicted, sexy, and loose. While uninterested in the clear path of responsibility, he is allowed by his sheer strength of personality to access odd emotional pathways, to have a psychic life, to create music, ritual, art, to even break new ground in these mediums. His relationship to the muse sometimes offers fame as a side dish. We are thrilled/horrified by Dionysian behavior, the lack of boundaries, the outlandish music, the one-fingered salute to convention. If his talent is recognized and success arrives, the Dionysian individual can incinerate quickly. We walk past an apart- ment party and see Joplin, Cobain, and Dean sharing margaritas as the block burns.

Then the wine men rise up
Wearing deep purple belts
And hats of defeated bees
And they bring goblets filled with dead eyes,
And terrible swords of brine,
And with raucous horns they greet one another
Singing songs of nuptial intent
Pablo Neruda5

Daniel Goleman talks about the necessity for “emotional intelligence” in the workplace; beyond the practical skills of your particular occupation, you need to be able to sense, handle, and articulate both your own and your colleague’s emotions. Goleman identifies the raw nerve endings in the desire for perfection, status, and success, and rather than suggesting you walk away completely and join an ashram, he proposes a palatable integration of both ends of the mythic spectrum. He writes: “The ancient brain centers for emo- tion also harbor the skills needed for managing ourselves effectively and for social adeptness.” Disturbingly, he also notes a decline in this kind of integration: among young people especially they are two horses pulling swiftly away from each other:

As children grow ever smarter in IQ, their emotional intelligence is on the decline. Perhaps the most disturbing single piece of data comes from a massive survey of parents and teachers that show the present generation of children to be more emotionally troubled than the last. On average, children are growing more lonely and depressed, more angry and unruly, more nervous and prone to worry, more impulsive and aggressive.6

Goleman is telling us that these poles appear to be growing farther apart than ever, that among a coming generation a perpetual dislocation is emerging between logic and feeling, with neither side handling or assisting the other.

Crafting a Temple
This disturbing situation turns us back to our sources: the old sto- ries. Hidden in the folds of Apollo’s wings we find a key. For three months a year, Apollo would turn his temple at Thebes over to the worship of Dionysus. Astoundingly, these two seemingly opposite, right brain/left brain forces were honored in the same vicinity. We know we aren’t gods, but could we be a temple?

James Hillman employs the phrase “Divine influxes” to describe the winged forces that sweep through us but are not purely con tained by us. We need to identify our visiting gods and goddesses and build an appropriate container for their incursions. It is our very contemporary arrogance to think that we can pick and choose them. In the case of Apollo and Dionysus, each seems to mutually recognize the benefit of the other. In fact, in our discussion of age and leadership we see that to aspire to both longevity and creativity, we will have to have both present. Without Apollo’s focus and long- term direction, the purely Dionysian individual risks addiction and early death. Without Dionysus, one can feel distant from the pulsing heart of life, successful but dry.

Artists famed for their wild bursts of inspiration often served steady apprenticeships as draftsman or illustrators for years—
Willem De Kooning and Franze Kline among them. To break from form, they first had to explicitly understand it. It feels fruitful for us to look at characters who have allowed Apollo’s discipline to sustain their vocation for decades, honing and amplifying it. They provide a very different model from the late twenties burn out.

Antoni Tapies and Cy Twombly, to name but two, are turning out some of the most vibrant work of their careers in their seventies and eighties . Their temples appear to have been built slowly, with both granite foundations and delicate little chambers ready to accommodate any peculiar bird song they may awake to. To brand them purely as Dionysus’ children is too sweeping. The kind of wildness they present, the wildness of elders, is not the crazy sweep of a double-headed axe but the lyrical footwork of the capowera dancer.