Monday, September 30, 2013

A Terrible Love of War: Another Loss, A Sequel

RIP: Dwight Graves, Vietnam veteran, falling with the autumn leaves[1]

“Fall: The flavor of fall is pungent its smell is rank. The Emperor lives on the Comprehensive Pattern side of the Hall of Light. He wears white robes and white jade ornaments, rides a war chariot pulled by white horses with black manes, trailing white streamers…Cool winds begin; white dew descends; young hawks are now able to sacrifice birds.”[2]

Dwight Graves was a burning star, an indomitable force in many domains: A Master potter, musician and artist, long-standing member of the League of NH Craftsmen, an active member of the Tucson Pottery Co-op, a NH Educator of the Year, accomplished musician, Vietnam Vet ('67-'69), Harley rider, activist, world traveler and peaceful warrior.

Dwight’s life, particularly after Vietnam, was a living testament on how to promote peace over war. Dwight was able to understand peace because he understood war, which most people can’t because of impaired imagination; that’s according to James Hillman in his groundbreaking book, A Terrible Love of War. He says, “War demands a leap of imagination as extraordinary and fantastic as the phenomenon itself.”[3]

Dwight personifies such an extraordinary and fantastic leap. With an artist’s imagination, he was able to transcend our country’s shrill and petty, polarized and self-serving, black and white understanding of war.

 I first met Dwight in the 1980s when we were founding Merrimack Valley Chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP). He and I and the rest of our initial group were Vietnam vets who came together in common cause to keep it from happening again, a new Vietnam, another illegal and immoral war, this time in Nicaragua which, at the time, Ronnie Reagan was foaming at the mouth to start.

Dwight was the perfect manifestation of the peaceful warrior but not a pacifist. None of us were. We vehemently disagreed, years later when our national organization voted to make our motto: “Abolish War.” We knew, like it or not, war was forged into our psyches, “an archetypal truth of the cosmos.”[4] It was simple minded to think one could abolish war: any crusade to abolish war would fail just as surely as the periodic crusades to ban sex before marriage.

Love and war, at first glance, appear to be mutually exclusive but A Terrible Love of War discloses that they are in intimate relationship:  “where else in human experience, except in the throes of ardor – that strange coupling of love with war – do we find ourselves transported to a mythical condition and the gods most real?”[5]

According to Hillman, we can’t have one without the other: both are essential components of the human psyche: Aphrodite, the goddess of love, art, beauty and poetic discourse acts as a counter-balance to Ares, the god of war; or in Hillman’s words, Aphrodite’s “softening, bridging pleasures” of poetry, music, and art “weaken the will of aggressive war.”[6]

Dwight lit up the sky because, in my opinion, he represented the best qualities of love and war. On one hand, he personified Aphrodite, not only through his magnificent art, music and ability to create community but from the fact that Dwight made each day of his life an exuberant celebration of love.

At the same time, rather than denying Ares’ presence, Dwight appeared to embrace the reality of war in the same forthright manner as classical Greek and Roman civilizations. With that same ancient wisdom, I can imagine Dwight asking Ares to grant him that unshakable courage and conviction he always possessed in order to fight back against the mob, to restrain the emotional hysteria that causes America to rush blindly, hell-bent into one war after another.

I imagine him appealing for help, just as the Greek’s did in the age of Homer in this “The Hymn to Ares:”

Hear me, helper of mankind
dispenser of youth’s sweet courage,
beam down from up there
your gentle light
on our lives,
and your martial power,
so that I can shake off
cruel cowardice
from my head,
and diminish the deceptive rush
of my spirit, and restrain
that shrill voice in my heart
that provokes me
to enter the chilling din of battle.
You, happy god,
Give me courage, let me linger
In the safe laws of peace[7]

Now that Dwight has left us, I see him, in my mind’s eye, looking down on us from above, still personifying the best of Ares and Aphrodite, carrying on just as outrageously as before, make music, making art, making love; all the time beaming his cleansing light into our lives, dispensing courage to us all to give us the strength to fight the good fight for social justice and equality while restraining that shrill voice in our hearts that provokes us into the chilling din of battle.

Click here to seea' A Terrible Love of War: Part I'

[1] A photo I took (& then posterized in photoshop) of Dwight at a VFP party in the 1980s at Paul Nichols home on Loudon Ridge
[2] An Elemental Thing by Eliot Weinberger, p. 86
[3] A Terrible Love of War by James Hillman, p. 6
[4] Ibid. p. 214
[5] Ibid. p. 9
[6] Ibid p. 176
[7] Ibid 202 (from an ancient text of Homeric Hymns)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Terrible Love of War

"The painting which I did after the defeat
of the Republicans was L'ange du foyer
(Fireside angel). This is, of course, an ironic
title for a clumsy figure devastating everything
that gets in its way. At the time, this was my
impression of what was happening in the world,
and I think I was right."
Max Ernest,from his writngs, 1948 
I was struck by Max Ernst’s painting, Fireside Angel, we recently viewed while visiting the Portland Art Museum in Oregon. It evoked in me the same feelings of chaos and destruction as A Terrible Love of War[1], a book I’m reading by James Hillman, which also portrays war in a stark light as a mythological element and implacable force in the human condition. The above image is a Photoshop manipulation of my photograph of Ernst’s painting, attuned to my own emotional connection to war as a Vietnam veteran.

Hillman’s book quotes Susan Sontag who claimed we can’t understand war, confirming what she says is the conventional wisdom of “what every solder, journalist, and independent observer who has ever spent time under fire and evaded death, stubbornly feels:” “We can’t imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is – and how normal it becomes.”

Hillman says, however, Sontag is wrong.  “Can’t understand, can’t imagine” is unacceptable. Hillman says “it gets us off the hook, admitting defeat before we have even begun.”  Instead he quotes what Robert McNamara, secretary of defense during much of the Vietnam War, who in his old age said, “we can now understand these catastrophes for what they were: essentially the products of a failure of the imagination.” (p. 4)

Hillman continues “the failure to understand may be because our imaginations are impaired and our modes of comprehension need a paradigm shift.’ (p. 5) “War demands a leap of imagination as extraordinary and fantastic as the phenomenon itself. Our usual categories are not large enough, reducing war’s meaning to explaining its causes.” (P 6).

He approvingly quotes Tolstoy who mocked the idea of discovering the cause of war by demonstrating that the causes of war are “innumerable and yet not one of them deserves to be called the cause.”

Hillman, quoting Vico, discounts the significance of causal reasoning by showing how it is added on, something that comes late in human evolution while the foundation of our psyche “the basic layer of the mind is poetic, mythic.”(p 8)

Therefore, according to Hillman’s reasoning, in order to understand war, we must recognize that when we are in the throes of it’s passion, we are removed to a mythical state of being, that is rationally inexplicable: “War belongs to our souls as an a archetypal truth of the cosmos. It is a human accomplishment and an inhuman horror, and a love that no other love has been able to overcome.” (p. 214).

Yet Hillman says we can and must do better. But this can only happen if we first acknowledge this “terrible truth,” this mythical spell that war casts over us. How in good conscious can we deny it: “where else in human experience, except in the throes of ardor – that strange coupling of love with war – do we find ourselves transported to a mythical condition and the gods most real?”(p 9)

If war is a mythical condition, a primal state of passion, we must use our cognitive facilities of reason to regain control: we can be “encouraged by the courage of culture, even in dark ages, to withstand war and yet sing. We [can work to] understand it better, delay it longer…”(p.22)

I believe Hillman is on to something: surely, we need to regain what he calls the courage of culture. No one can deny we have a long track record of controlling certain passions. All societies, for instance, have learned to establish customs, ceremonies, rituals, and laws to restrain unbridled sexual passion. In our own country, in just the last 50 years alone, we have made major strides by passing laws and raising public awareness to reduce sexual victimization by broadening the definition of what constitutes rape, abuse, and sexual harassment.

Yet when it comes to war, our politicians and mass media have done the opposite, loosing prohibitions, even becoming cheerleaders for war. As Hillman points out, “War” becomes more normalized every day:

“Trade wars, gender war, Net war, information war. But war against cancer, war against crime, against drugs, poverty, and other ills of society have nothing to do with the actualities of war. … This way of normalizing war has whitewashed the word and brainwashed us, so that we forget its terrible images.” (P. 22)

War has increasingly become the metaphor of our times This corresponds with what George Lakoff wrote in 1980 in his now a classic, Metaphors We Live By. Using linguistic evidence, Lakoff demonstates how the metaphors we use structure what we perceive, how we think and what we do.

Lakoff goes on to illustrate how the conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR is omnipresent in our everyday language, giving the following as examples:

“Your claims are indefensible.
He attacked every weak point in my argument.
His criticisms were right on target.
I demolished his argument.
I've never won an argument with him.
You disagree? Okay, shoot!
If you use that strategy, he'll wipe you out.
He shot down all of my arguments.
Once one starts looking into it, it is frightening how much of our language is based on the war metaphor along with it’s evil twin: our free market economy and survival of the fittest mindset.
For an alternative vision, Lakoff asks us to try the following thought experiment; “Try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground.
“Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently.”[2]
It is extremely difficult to imagine an alternative culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, living as we do in the ultimate warrior society. We are cogs in the wheel of the greatest Empire the world has ever seen, a mindset that infects all of us, even those of us on the bottom of the totem pole. We are all conditioned to play the game, strive for mastery and control – or feel like a failure.
Carol Pearson, in Hero Within, points out the tragic nature of life of the warrior life and suggests a way to shift our expectations:
“The Warrior’s life, with its focus on power over other people and the earth, is lonely and ultimately tragic. We may complete our journeys, be rewarded by being made king or queen, but we all know that the story goes on. We  will, we know, lose power, be replaced by the new hero, and die. And our last moments on this earth will be marked by the least control over ourselves, other people, the future, and even our bodily functions ...

“But what if we simply shift our expectations a bit? What if the goal of life is not to prevail, but simply to learn? Then the end of the story can seem very different; and so can what happen in between birth and death. Heroism is redefined as not only moving mountains but knowing mountains: being fully oneself and seeing without denial, what is, and being open to learning the lessons life offers us.”[3]

[1] A Terrible Love of War by James Hillman
[2] Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980).  Selections from chapters 1, 2, 3, and part of 4
[3] The Hero Within by Carol Pearson, pp. 9-10

Friday, September 13, 2013

An Equinoctial Solstice of the Soul

Haystack Rock: Cannon Beach OR
CC Jean Stimmell: September '13

 “There is an illusion of ‘end,’ a stasis seemingly like death. But it is only an illusion. Everything, at this crucial point, lies in the attitude which we assume towards the moment.”  *

I am indebted to Maria Popova, master cultural chronicler of our times, for the above quote by Henry Miller, written at a time around WWII, according to Maria, reflecting on a cultural era much like what we are experiencing today, a transitional period Miller calls “an equinoctial solstice of the soul.”

* The Wisdom of the Heart: Henry MIller on the Art of Living.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Nothing New Under the Sun

Ecola State Park, Oregon
CC Jean Stimmell: September '13

When it comes to making compelling arguments about safe guarding our national security as President Obama recently did, the following quote by Philip Giraldi perfectly illustrates the truth that there is nothing new under the sun.

"In the second century B.C., Cato the Elder, a Roman Senator, would end every speech he made with the admonition "Delenda Est Carthago," meaning that the city of Carthage, Rome’s perennial rival, must be destroyed. Among other claims, the Romans accused the Carthaginians of engaging in human sacrifice to their god Ba’al Hammon, something that one might describe as the "red line" of that era as Greco-Roman culture abhorred the practice and condemned those who engaged in it. Even though Rome dominated the Mediterranean and Carthage was in decline, Cato believed that one day the ancient resentments would again rise to the surface and a resurgent Carthage would discover a new Hannibal and take revenge. In other words, the survival of Carthage was seen as a threat to the continued existence of the Roman Republic. Cato’s argument was convincing enough to many Romans that it resulted in the Third Punic War in which Carthage was indeed destroyed."

Archetypes from Nature

Reptile Mother: Ecola State Park
CC Jean Stimmell: 9/11/13

In my last blog, I attempted to show how art images can originate as archetypes from our collective unconscious by contrasting Rodin’s sculpture, The Thinker, with an amazing 3000 year-old piece of indigenous art. (I’m aware that the ancient indigenous piece was undoubtedly created not for ephemeral arts sake but as part of an overarching spiritual  quest).

These two sculptures are examples of archetypal images welling up from our collective unconscious – our common pool of our history from the dawn of human time across all races and cultures.  But our collective consciousness – at yet a deeper and more fundamental level – is molded by our primal relationship with the natural forms of Mother Nature that surround us.

I will attempt to illustrate this principal by comparing and contrasting photographs I took at the Northwestern Native American art exhibit at the Portland Art Museum with photographs I took in the Sitka Spruce rain forest at Ecola State Park in Oregon today.
Portland Art Museum
Untouched Photograph:Ecola State Park Oregon: 9/11/13

Tlingit totem poles, Northwest Coast of North America, ca. 1907
Tree in Ecola State Park 9/11/13
CC Jean Stimmell

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's An Original – OR NOT

When I first started my blog, now years ago, I questioned the idea of originality, especially in the fields of art and philosophy, agreeing with Luc Sante:

"Originality, if there can ever be any such thing, will inevitably entail a quantity of borrowing, conscious and otherwise. The paradoxes pile up as thick as the debris of history — unsurprisingly, since that debris is our reality." The Fiction of Memory," NYT 3/14/10.

That raises the question: Do artists and philosophers actually create anything new or do they merely discover, over and over again, the same thing?  And do these "creations" represent images from our external environment or do they emanate from our inner world: archetypes of our unconscious?
The Thinker by Auguste Rodin cc 1904
Auguste Rodin did his first rendition of The Thinker cc 1904. If memory serves me correctly, he subsequently did 17 more variations on this theme. According to conventional western wisdom, Rodin's sculptures are masterpieces of individual genius and, as such, have become an image to represent thinking in general and philosophy in particular. 

Jungian psychology, however, would say the opposite: that the symbolic thinker is an archetype each of us carries within us in our collective unconscious. If the Jungians are correct, we would expect to see The Thinker archetype manifest itself through individual artists in other civilizations.

While visiting the Portland Art Musuem September 6th, I found a case in point from 1100-500 BCE.
Perforator, Mexico,  Olmec:  ca. 1100-500 BCE

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Earthy descendent self vs. the ego

Underground me working on granite canal in the early 1980s

James Hillman, renowned archetypal psychologist, says we are often introduced to our calling – our destiny – at an early age.  For me, I think it happened when I first read Socrates and Plato at the age of 15; my whole psyche suddenly burst open, flowering with ideas and theories about the nature of reality. But as I wrote in my diary at that time, I was mightily conflicted – split right down the middle - by my attraction to an apparent opposite, John Wayne.

With hard work over the last 50 plus years, I thought I had done a decent job of reconciling my split personality by attempting to merge the best parts of John Wayne (being honest, straight-forward, a man of action) with the best parts of Socrates (being in love with ideas and theories about what it means to be human and still, at the same time, be a person of conviction) and, finally, working to harness these combined qualities to help others.

But the psyche does not thrive on consistency and naive truths.

I was reminded of that last week when I was visited by an unusual dream. In the dream I was still a stonemason, my old profession.  I had two employees: one person underground, who was working to build a solid foundation to support the above ground stonewall – the visible part – which was being built by the other worker. The superstructure worker was taking the lead but not in a good way: He was working too fast and unpredictably, weaving new sections of wall this way and that, making it impossible for underground worker to keep up and build a strong and enduring foundation for the wall above.

The superstructure worker was hogging all the credit while the underground worker fumed, becoming increasing frustrated and resentful. It became clear to me in my dream that one part of my operation was pitting itself against the other to the detriment of both of them – and, ultimately, me.

Things had to change: I sat them both down and told them that I was issuing new ground rules, starting immediately: Rather than paying each of them for the individual work they did, I was going to wait and pay each of them equal amounts but only after the job was completed and judged to be excellent.

I’ve yet to come to terms with this dream.  

I intend to follow the suggestion emailed to me by my Jungian analyst: To use active imagination to "dialogue between my new 2 parts." I suspect that I will find that "underground me" is rightfully pissed off at  "above ground me," (i.e. my ego), for thinking he is too big, for getting ahead of himself, for insisting on directing the show when he doesn't know what he is doing because he is ungrounded, airy, just skimming along the surface, incapable of acknowledging "underground man's momentous contribution, starting, so to speak,  "from the ground up."

More about this in a future blog.  In the meantime, any comments or interpretations would be welcome.