Goddess of the Jewelled Web – Visionary Arts’ Connection to Truth

Daniel Mirante


Added on September 6, 2021

During a discussion on the night of the 19th of September 1931, at Magdalen College, Oxford, with J.R.R Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Hugo Dyson, Lewis said that, “myths are but lies breathed through silver“.

Midas Anıtı Yazılıkaya – Charles Félix Marie Texier 1882

C.S. Lewis was vexed by an ancient question – whether the arts have any philosophic utility or relationship to ‘Truth’. This is an old debate. Plato seemed to believe that the poet does not speak truth. Instead of representing ‘knowledge’ (techne), arts express a kind of ‘divine madness’, or inspiration (psyche).

Art striving for an existential veracity, or ‘truth’, will be put upon a difficult and confusing road riddled with forking and branching pathways; between positivist and nominalist systems tending toward rationality (as in ‘ratio’, to measure), and on the other extreme something akin to decor, the enjoyment of a sensory object.

What we wish to seek here is a deeper meaning for the Arts, which puts the Sacred Arts upon an integral foundation, and frames in our understanding the great and important things of which it is truly capable.

The Reign of Quantity in the Modern Arts

Put simply, positivism refers to any system that confines itself to the measurable and replicable data and excludes metaphysical speculations. Nominalism is the doctrine that universals or general ideas are mere names, without any corresponding reality. Only particular objects exist. Properties, numbers, and sets are merely features of the way of considering the things that exist, and do not pertain to the ‘thing in themselves’.

Nominalism and positivism tend to Atomism – the quest for evermore fundamental elementary units through which the behaviour of the overall system may be built up from and thereby understood. This leads us to the high abstractions of mathematics and physics.

“Philosophers had been humbled in the presence of the positivistic scientists”

Fowlie

We can loosely class such approaches under the ‘Apollonian’, the rational, orderly, and self-disciplined aspects of human nature. The expression of such Apollonian traits in the visual arts comes through such things as geometry, systems of harmonic ratio, perspective and so on.

If art only acquires ‘truth’ through the application of such principles, then the current technology of 3d engineering and particle dynamics, within the digital space, would be holding fast to ‘Scientific Truth’ and expressing this understanding through the celebration of technical means; the creation of aesthetic structures achieved through cutting edge engineering principles, wherein ‘the medium is the message’.

Buckminster Fuller

From such a perspective of techne, there is nothing to really be done in the painting arts, because no two-dimensional image may achieve a mimesis, mimicry- isomorphism or correspondence to ‘truth’ as nominalist and atomist approaches would have it.

Metaphysic and mythic ‘truths’ are not truths in the scientific sense, therefore the depiction of the Bible, or the Greco-Roman classical pagan worldview are really no more than cartoons depicting narratives that are themselves mixtures and assemblages of cultural lore, oral and written tradition, fantastic scenarios, and moral/ethical/political value systems.

Giorgio Ghisi. The Vision of Ezekiel. 1554
Giorgio Ghisi. The Vision of Ezekiel. 1554

The question may then circle back around to C.S Lewis’s confoundment, and subsequently ask if bearing upon metaphysics, or sophiology, through art, is simply being quaint, sentimental, or giving up on the hard problem of scientific truth and rather, working more a kind of propaganda of one’s chosen worldview.

The consequences of the failure of a coherent framework for metaphysics in the arts results in the contemporary emphasis upon:

  • technologic early-adoption prowess with engineering approaches at the forefront
  • idiosyncrasy, individualism, eccentricity, novelty,
  • fixation upon the figure of the ‘crazy artist’ or ‘genius’, exceptional colourful or profound personality 
  • subscription to ‘realism’ and traditional academic approaches of craftsmanship and representation
  • art aware of itself as divorced from ‘veracity to truth’ and resigned to increasingly baroque edifices of self-referential ‘art theory’ and ‘art speak’ and ‘art arcanum’
  • pornography, propaganda, kitsch/zombie-aesthetics
  • preaching to the choir – niche ecosystems, hostage audiences, echo-chambers, fan bases
  • imagery and productions leaning upon established pop cultural lore produced by centralised cultural production
  • reciting of established cultural canon, whether ‘pop’ or ‘tradition’
  • home decor and wall paint, interior design
  • totems, symbols & dreamtime

It is these last three – totems, symbols and dreamtime, I wish to talk about in terms of paradigms of visionary art. But before we go there, we are going to add a very powerful ‘universal solvent’ into the discussion – Darwinian evolutionary algorithms.

Memetics

Nobody, anywhere, has ever really managed to create an all-encompassing definition of culture, perhaps because the best minds have deigned to attempt it. Sir Karl Popper repeatedly emphasized that definitions are not important, but rather that solving problems is: the key aim of (capital-S) Science.

Richard Dawkins proposed a theory in his book, ‘The Selfish Gene’, whereby we may understand ‘ideas’ in the same way as genes. Reproduction, mutation and selection processes are observable in the living world and result in the vast diversity and continuing change of organisms in the world.

An organism mates, reproduces its genes, the off springs however may contain small or great variations, and some of these variations will be beneficial because they have ‘fitness’ to the environment it lives within. This environmental terrain (the overall conditions, organisms and elements involved) defines which of the genetic variations go forward to reproduce and which ones are eliminated.

Memetics are not an established scientific truth or fact of nature – because there is no fundamental, nominalist ‘unit’ of an idea that can be produced, observed and manipulated – such as an elementary particle, a figurae of language or hachimoji bases of DNA. Although there have been proposals that one may one day discover neural correlates of memeplexes, this is so far hypothetical, and memetics may be nothing more than a kind of scientistic homily, a genetic metaphor for ‘culture’. It is nonetheless an extremely compelling and powerful metaphor.

Hyperspace – The Jewelled Web

Imagine a ‘space’ connected by the combined network effect of 7 billion human brains in continual, unbroken inter-relationship across the planet. Let us visualise processes of communication connecting each person, like nodes creating a network. Each node/body/brain/mind is a transducer (sender-receiver) of memes that it is host to. 

When I ‘convince’ you of an idea, I educate or indoctrinate you, and that ‘meme’ has reproduced in your mind. If the meme/idea is weak, it will be subsumed by other more dominant memes. It may mate or recombine with other ideas producing hybrids in a kind of Hegelian dialectic process.

Through day-to-day conversation, versions of reality are spoken to one-another and so compared and adjusted. The versions of reality are shared and adjusted both passively and actively (e.g. watching television, going to church, reading a newspaper or book). The unspoken baseline reality assumptions that are implied in everyday talk also substantiate the subterrain of the memes, which are often beyond our ability to perceive and directly comprehend. These ‘proto-memes’ comprise abstract vector spaces or architectural elements that are in themselves inchoate to our rational mind, chthonic and ancestral, part of the primordial soup of memetic space.

 "Woman's Thoughts aka Complex Memetics" by Flickr user PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE
“Woman’s Thoughts aka Complex Memetics” by Flickr user PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE

Memeplexes are vast symbiotic and mutually reinforcing ideas that support each other’s survival. Memeplexes exist in relatively low-resolution in the individual, but highly complex and ‘edifice-like’ in collective manifestation. Although change in the form of the memeplex is inevitable, when many people in the network are involved in processes of comparing their ‘versions’ of the memes through reciprocal communication, a memeplex is buffered from degradation. When large memeplexes encounter each other, on the world stage it may look like a ‘clash of civilisations’ or ‘culture war’ – or, if organs of logic and consilience are brought to bear, a ‘dialogue of civilisations’ whereby host parties recognise the potential benefits of synthesis or ‘make love, not war’.

The Tower of Babel – The foundations of this tower rise from an ancient moraine of evolutionary history in a Faustian quest for knowledge and immortality. Its various floors and strata contain something akin to an ‘Akashic Record’ or Jung’s ‘species house’ of cultural memory. Its utmost spires tenuously weave rarefied threads and reach crystalline and needle-like into the starry voids. And occasionally, civilisational clashes, scientific innovation, natural disasters, or some cataclysmic event ‘undermines’ the integrity of sections of the tower, causing collapse – the ‘light’ of civilisation snuffed for a time amidst inchoate babble where we simply cannot understand each other.

We are in a sense ruled by ideas. The suicide bomber or the utopian idealist, both alike driven by emotion and emblazoned inwardly by the heraldry of religious and tribal visions. Finding ourselves within these invisible matrixes of memetic formations, progressive and revolutionary action characterises tradition as oppressive and will seek to transcend, and the opposing conservative pole will resist and will characterise radical change as disrespectful and diabolic (as in – to ‘throw apart’, to ‘dis-integrate’).

The force of conservation in opposition to revolution is not always ‘wrong’ – many inherited ‘traditions’ are part of what constitutes our more advanced humanity, and it is prudent to ‘conserve progress’. Ancient cultural forms that evolve with continuity and preservation of information may indeed bestow benefits, since our accumulated cultural lore also contains many knowledgeable and wise principles that empower and liberate, educate and enlighten, representing forms of human relating and systems of ‘The True, Good & Beautiful’.

The sense of the sublime, or numinous, in an artwork, may be the experience of ‘contact’ with a ‘civilisational edifice’ that feels bigger, deeper and richer than our individual knowledge and understanding. In this way ‘Great Art’ acts as ‘master nodes’ in the network. Such memeplexes are also older than the individual human being – some components and features of these palisades of memory are of great antiquity.

We could say, therefore, that listening to Vivaldi, reading Lord of the Rings, or absorbing ourselves in a painterly work of magnitude, is to enter a transpersonal space of a highly charged nexus of memetic referents that will, as it were, ‘vibrate’ or ring or chime into being like a struck bell, resonating in excitation when enlightened upon by conscious awareness/energy/attention.

Jacobe Boehm - Aurora (1612)  “Where is God? Listen you blind human, you live in God and God in you…”
Jacobe Boehm – Aurora (1612) “Where is God? Listen you blind human, you live in God and God in you…”

Goddesses and Egregores of the Collective Consciousness

Memeplexes are ‘bigger’ than us, as we are but one jewel in the self-reflecting Web of Indra.  Memeplexes are emergent, highly complex systems, and so they contain features not predictable or implied by the basic behaviour of semantic or semiotic units or figurae. Moreover, though many parts of the meme-pool of culture are consciously engineered, a much vaster reach is built upon an evolutionary and ancestral cumulation, geologic features and terrains, realms and domains of vast depths, heights, and intricacy. These structures are ‘organic’ and more akin to the geometrical organic orders of coral reefs than of skyscrapers and cathedrals.  

We may discern the ancient primordial abiding structures that are deeply stable in our language and culture, and the more mobile, shorter lived, ‘active agents’ or ‘egregores’ created within this dynamic field of resonance.  For example, the phenomenon of autonomous agency and ‘discarnate entities’, such as elves, angels, goddesses & demons and so on, that personify, we could say, certain memeplex.

Jung never was exactingly clear as to whether the archetypes of the collective Consciousness – for instance The Great Mother, the Wise Old Man, the Shadow, the Tower, Water, and the Tree of Life – are in some ways genetically encoded or belonging to a transcendent dimension. In some of his works, Jung leans toward Mono-psychism, proposing that all humans share the same eternal consciousness, soul, mind and intellect.

But other times, Jung’s paradigm would sound more acceptable to evolutionary psychologists, that “certain structures and predispositions of the unconscious are common to all of us…[on] an inherited, species-specific, genetic basis”. Yet from the perspective of memetics, this space originates in neither the genes or a transcendent dimension, but rather is a complex emergent property or network effect of many human minds in connection.

“The hypothesis of the collective unconscious is … no more daring than to assume that there are instincts.”

Jung (Collected Works 9, pt. 1, ¶91)

It is from this ‘collective consciousness’ or meme hyperspace, this ‘primordial psychic moraine’, that recurring numinous motifs and archetypal symbols emerge in all times and places. Jung called this ‘Autochthonous revival‘. These archetypal symbols or highly charged memetic constellations can remain latent until ‘activated’ by a ‘releasing stimulus’.

Such ‘archetypes’ have immense power. Zeus’s paramour, Semele, was incinerated when she was tricked by Hera into demanding that her lover show himself to her in his full divine glory. The Greeks knew that the personal ego cannot always withstand direct contact with transpersonal energies.

Gustave Moreau. Jupiter and Semele (oil study)1895

Possession or encounter with an archetype is not necessarily always bad; it can be a source of archetypal power and inspiration (von Franz 1980, 29). Poets and philosophers invoke the Muses; lovers appeal to Aphrodite and Eros; theurgists call on Helios. The clearest and most relatable example is when the lover is charged by a numinous energy (in the eyes of the beloved). Much art seems to elude this intersection of the personal with this transpersonal dimension in human life. This recalls the divine madness of Plato.

Catharsis, Abreaction, Anagnorisis & Peripeteia

By regarding memes not merely as information but as strongly coupled with the emotional body and evolutionarily relevant behaviours, we move closer to understanding Arts’ relationship to phenomenological human experience. Jung described the alchemical process of ‘Amplification’ whereby imagery is used to create a meaningful context around a symbol needing examination. In subjective amplification, a dreamer, for example, uses active imagination to associate a dream symbol in order to grasp it better. In objective amplification, the analyst collects themes from mythology, alchemy, religion, and other sources to illuminate, or amplify, archetypal symbols produced in dreams or fantasy.

This process brings about Catharsis (from Greek κάθαρσις, katharsis, meaning “purification” or “cleansing” or “clarification”), which Aristotle underlined is so important in the Arts. Related to catharsis, are processes of Abreaction– an artistic ‘re-telling’ of an event, in either ‘mythic time’ or in historical or living memory, ‘re-living’ the experience to purge it of its excessive emotional charge. Anagnorisis also plays a strong part in this- the hero’s sudden awareness of a real situation and the hero’s insight into a relationship with an often-antagonistic character causing an ‘integration’ of proto-memetic forces and emotions.

Psychological & Visionary

In a lecture delivered in 1929, “Psychology and Literature,”, Jung differentiated arts between the ‘psychological’ and the ‘visionary’. In doing so, he elaborated upon the poet’s divine madness or inspiration that Plato alluded to, and also perhaps eluded to the Tautegorical – invoked by Coleridge and Friedrich Schelling – where the Symbol directs to itself, its primal self-existence, rather than something else (as in allegory).

“It is a strange something that derives its existence from the hinterlands of man’s mind—that suggests the abyss of time separating us from pre-human ages, or evokes a superhuman world of contrasting light and darkness. It is a primordial experience which surpasses man’s understanding, and to which he is in danger therefore of succumbing. The value and the force of the experience are given by its enormity. It arises from timeless depths […] The primordial experiences rend from top to bottom the curtain upon which is painted the picture of an ordered world. And allow a glimpse into the unfathomed abyss of what has not yet become. Is it a vision of other worlds, of the obscuration of the spirit, or of the beginning of things before the age of man, or of the unborn generations of the future?”  

Carl Jung Modern Man in Search of a Soul (p. 156-157)

The Chalquist Glossary of Jungian Terms annotates this point thus :

“Art can never be reduced to psychopathology because visionary art is greater than its creator and draws on primordial images and forces. Rather than a symptom or something secondary, it’s a true symbolic expression, a reorganization of the conditions to which a causalistic explanation reduces it.”

Schelling, in his Philosophy of Mythology, wrote “It is not we who have placed mythology, but mythology has placed us in the perspective from which, at present, we shall consider it.”  

Herein is the ancient power vested in bards, oracles, artists and poets – the ‘divine madness’ of ‘inspiration. A ‘reorganisation of the conditions’ – the very conditions to which a causalistic explanation reduces it.

In other words, Art effects the symbolic moraine, rather than just ‘representing’ it, or making commentary’.  Artists are Artifex, or artificer, and alchemists within this symbolic space, producing artifacts that may comprise powerful transformations by ‘resonating’ archetypal fields within the collective consciousness, and thus, through processes of catharsis, abreaction, anagnorisis, toward Anagogy – the ‘divine ascent’ of integration of the subconscious with the conscious, this Peripeteia or ‘turning point’, in the journey from the chaos or cathartic ‘underworld’ of disordered internal realms, and up toward a higher level of integration (apocatastasis) and wholeness.


End of Part I


References

https://storyality.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/storyality-100-the-holonic-structure-of-the-meme-the-unit-of-culture/

https://footnotes2plato.com/2012/07/25/schellings-philosophy-of-mythology/

https://chalquist.com/writings/jungdefs/

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnevo.2011.00001/full

http://web.eecs.utk.edu/~bmaclenn/papers/EJT/V.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimesis

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abreaction

https://quillette.com/2018/02/21/search-meaning-dangers-possession/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memetics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspension_of_disbelief

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_unconscious

https://theosophy.wiki/en/Egregore

Daniel Mirante is a painter, historian, scholar, teacher and writer.

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