In the interest of using my time more efficiently, while still maintaining this blog, here is a comment I posted on John’s blog that I thought might generate some discussion. Its also something I haven’t talked about that much on this blog, but that I think about a lot and try to incorporate into what I do at my internship, for example. It even ties into my love of Tolkien directly, though to explain why and how, I’d need time for a whole other post or three 🙂
I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking about how myth, or perhaps the mythopoetic, works, because I think it is a crucial thing to recapture in order to make sense of the world and to be able to function meaningfully within it. I think that part of our negative inheritance from the Enlightenment is that we treat the world as if it was merely overtly functional, as if it was a “literal” or “objective” place, and it just isn’t.
I think that postmodernism clumsily grapples with this fact, but that part of the best cure for it is essentially premodern – in the mythopoetic.
In short, what I think is that as moderns/postmoderns, we’re past a point where most of us will be able to consciously treat our myths as factual in the usual, reductionist sense. However, our myths still function unconsciously (examples: the myth of America, the myth of the free market, the myth of democracy, etc.)
These unconsciously functioning myths are the worst-case scenario because they prevent us from understanding ourselves and our world, of actually making meaning rather than merely getting by.
What we need to do is to, on the one hand, understand our myths consciously, reflect on them, and even critique then if need be. On the other hand, in the ‘poetic’ part of mythopoetic, we need to speak and act as if your myths were reductionistically true, as if they were the “objective” narrative we so crave. It is only in this way that they can have their impact on us, that they can shape us in meaningful ways, and that they can help us make sense of the world and our place in it.
One example of this is liturgical speech in contrast to critical speech. You shouldn’t mix the two, but this happens a lot. Liberals tend to use critical speech in a liturgical situation (say, in a sermon), and conservatives tend to use liturgical speech in a critical situation (say, a Bible study). This just leads to confusion, at least for me, where critical-analytical sermons bore me and uncritical/literalistic Bible studies aggravate me – because their functioning is reversed. (To be clear, the above example is just drawn from my own experience and observation.)
There’s a context for both to function, but confusing them deprives both of their power, and can even corrupt it. (Here, by ‘liturgical’ I mean faith-speech or confessional speech, ‘mythopoetics’ in my useage, etc.)
Anyway, sorry for the long response. Your post just got me thinking.
For an exmaple of what I mean by “liturgical speech” used powerfully, for most people just think of the great sermons or speeches you’ve heard. They weren’t treatises, they were impassioned declarations. They were poetic. They moved you on a level that is deeper than what is rational.
Then, for “critical speech”, think of any classes you’ve really gotten a lot out of, or even training sessions at work that helped clarify a procedure for you or taught you a new and better way to do something. These were probably critical-analytical – they helped you reflect and develop consciously and to think critically and be more effective.