Idealization &; Identity

7 Aug

Myths are the stories and images a group of people uses to construct itself as an organic unit with a discrete history, that is, as a culture. A culture uses the forms of art to express aspects of its myth the details of which express its identity or character.
Western culture though containing a powerful Jewish substrate is younger than Hebrew culture and is rooted in Greece (Hellas). The distinct essence of Hellenic culture is its emphasis on metamorphosis and idealization of via imagery. The self is transformed and ‘fixed’ in an image, often a god or goddess (for example, Athens is re-presented as a virgin warrior, Athena, the image-ideal of their high god, Zeus and the result of his transformation and male gestation and male ‘virgin’ birth. Athena depicts an auto-erotic male idealization that supplants female intervention yet results in a supreme warrior goddess.
The process of idealization, at least in its distinctive Hellenic form is a process of alienation and terror but it begins as an idyll, a dream of mystical or aesthetic self-perfection. It is a three-fold process from idyll to apocalypse to elegy, the state in which Western culture has been for a century. In Western Europe, the elegiac phase began overlapping the apocalyptic by the early 19th century, first in England as pervasive unease about the transformation and loss of agrarian England overlapped worries about the radical changes, and threat of invasion from revolutionary France with its goal of taking Western civilization back to Classical models, an archaic and impossible goal that had to generate violence and terror.

IDYLL: In the first stage of image-work, the self or culture (the term parent-cell also is apt) imagines an idealized self, a self image, for example, the founding of Camelot, its pageantry, buildings, heroes and heroines and victories.

APOCALYPSE: As the image splits off from the social body or individual self, there is a growing and apocalyptic sense of alienation and morbidity (the morbidity pervades all social institutions and relations including perception of self). This feeling increases, and with it, terror increases as energy drains into and is absorbed by the image and individuals in the culture feel an increasing loss of solidity and value; some seeking ways to identify with the image; some granted identity with the image by the ruling cadres. The image possesses and displaces the individuals and original organizations in the culture the way Geraldine, the demon lover of utterly ambiguous essence possesses and displaces Christabel in Coleridge’s great poem that defines our culture. As the image draws more power and mesmeric charisma to itself, a process evident in the electronic mass media of the past five decades, cultural institutions petrify and there is an increasing sense of unreality and with it, of terror. The world seems to belong, and in some respects does come to belong to shadows, images (root word, magike) a process expressed in postmodern times by the concept and dominance of virtual or image reality over substantial material and emotional reality. This ‘new order’ is buttressed by its ideology, already dominant in Academia, that ‘nothing is real’ except opinions (ephemera) which really means that whatever the dominant tendency wants or asserts is real and has power. This further increases terror as everyone senses that power and law have become arbitrary, transient, ambiguous and the province of a privileged caste entry into which does not depend on logic or merit.

ELEGY: As the culture becomes a presentation, a work of art and living myth no longer spontaneous but highly artificial and serving the interests of an elite, cultural institutions petrify and so do all social forms. Lack of authenticity is widespread; indeed, authenticity becomes almost impossible to sustain against the tide of reigning illusions, cliches and outright lies. The Empress is naked and no one must say so. Individuals turn to worn out traditions, like the various attempts to revive Christianity (whose illogic was central to the West’s self-formation and to its self-destruction) and the image-machine becomes ever more stridently glamorous, self-pitying, nostalgic and apocalyptic. Cultural touchstones for this process are discussed by Spengler in the last sections of “The Decline of the West” and are fiercely celebrated by the cultic Yeats in poems like “Byzantium.” The temptation to image-work, the unease with identity within it is the Circe of a culture of imagery. of glamour, artifice and virtual reality.

The financial and economic destruction of the West by its elites, who are obsessed with transforming the world into an image that can be managed perfectly, a glistening global machine, is part of this apocalypse and elegy. The destruction is not an accident but part of the “Oedipus at Colonnus” stage of the West. The problem of its hybrid and constructed identity makes the Oedipus and Orpheus myths the West’s central ones. Thus the early Modern period developed a “Symbolist” art that in hyper-real style emphasized the super-reality of imaginary and archaic myths and symbols like that of Oedipus, the Sphinx and the be-headed Orpheus. The singer / poet or image-maker, decapitated and dismembered by his audience symbolizes the dynamic process of Western image-work in which the representation decapitates, so to speak, the culture and de-natures its individuals.

Idealized Image Beckons and Tempts


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