Archive for September, 2008
Like preening birds of paradise, the women of Windsor come out in a colorful parade of pomp, pumps and perfume. Yet something is missing. A city without true urbanity, these lovely ladies reflect its failed and fading fortunes. More famous for auto parts than autodidacts, the blue-collar aura of the place bleeds through the shadowy simulation of bright lights and big city. These are folksy fashionistas, brand and label conscious to a fault, reproducing the conformity of suburbia, their cocktail dresses like so many split-level cookie-cutter resurrected Levittowns.
But I write with the sharp of a snobby outsider. A loner. Truth is there’s a sweet innocence in all the stag-ettes and groups of “pretty young things” — gaggles of geese or herds of gazelles, they seem. None of the edge of cities I know — too much recognition, not enough ugly anonymity. Like a quaint stage play, complete with a consistent and colorful cast of characters. An assembly-line approach to the party, churned out for pennies a day.
I wonder how the regularities progress; what the locals think. Familiarity breeds contempt, I surmise. But there is also something soft, cozy and comfortable about the whole thing. Like a death bed…
Only the third nation on earth to single-handedly launch people into space (in 2003), the Chinese continue their successful space program this week with an attempted space-walk mission. You can read about this story all over the net, but I link here to an article in the New York Times. Another impressive technological feat from a part of the world that brought us the compass, gunpowder and printing.
These days everybody wants to be famous. A star. But why stop there? Why not become iconic, transcend your personal space-time continuum. I say go crazy — create your own mythology.
Conscious myth-making, otherwise know as mythopoeia — a term coined by famed author and myth inventor J.R.R. Tolkien — is a staple of modern popular culture (and by this I don’t mean the people captured by paparazzi acting like idiots on Hollywood Boulevard…). Superheroes, you know? Like the ancient Greeks, but in tights. Rooted in the recesses of the storytelling tradition, mythology is just a formalized version of telling good campfire tales.
But it also takes creativity and skill. The tide of Jung’s collective unconscious is strong, and swimming against it, or finding new eddies and currents, is no easy task. Some who have tried, pulp pioneers like H.P. Lovecraft with his Cthulhu Mythos, are driven to madness. Others, like Robert E. Howard with his Hyborian tales, are driven even further…
To create an original mythology is a Herculean task. So much of our modern reference frame and language is rooted in preexisting myths. Myth-making involves delving into word origins — etymology — and getting down and dirty in the anthropological Levi-Straussian sense, poking into the dark corners of history and beyond.
But the rewards for success are legion. Consider the influence of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897) and the man who put vampires on the map. He made an obscure eastern European superstition rooted in pseudo-history into a prominent part of modern culture. Not too shabby for a theater manager.
So much of modern literature (genre, especially) is constrained by the necessity to be “recognizable”. This familiarity guarantees some success in publishing terms. But where is the fun in that? I say go off the deep end, take risks, really make stuff up. Crazy stuff, new stuff, transcendentally weird stuff. Fortune favors the bold. Bold and bizarre, even.
I’m just trying to think of what I’d be proud to write (if I had the patience to write fiction…), and I suppose the point is I can’t think of what it would be. If it was anything, then it would be a complete surprise, something I never expected, dredged up from the Id — the very “monsters of the Id” — spilled out onto the page like the innards of human existence. Darkness and light, Manichean duality, epic passion, sky-spanning consciousness and everyday axioms of life and death. The works.
The talented Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (whose work is currently being brilliantly exhibited at the SFMOMA…) said in a lecture in 1945 that “the reason people need to invent or imagine heroes and gods is because of their fear — fear of life and fear of death.” Indeed. Why let that stuff twist you into knots and make you mental? If you have even the least bit of talent (or even if you can barely spell), let it out onto the page. Make up new words and language — rip the top off your head and look in there to see what’s a stewin’ and brewin’. But above all, be bold — archetypal as Jung would have called it. Write for all times. All lives. Forget this modernist navel-gazing about the subtle complexities of some pseudo-banal inner life. Sartre is OK, but let’s try to use the written word to create lasting meaning. It won’t come from anywhere else. Go ahead and make yourself iconic…Create your own mythology!
If you happen to be in Aurora next week I highly recommend checking out the Wellington Gallery. Self-described as “Canada’s only art bar”, the hip, cozy locale will be holding its 6th anniversary show the last week of September. Fell upon it today during my nomadic wanderings in the wilds of suburban Ontario…And I have to say, it’s pretty nifty…