The World Within: C.G. Jung In His Own Words (1990 Documentary with Archival Footage)

“La Dama de Elche. Persephone’s thigh where Pluto clutches it in the Bernini. The right hand of Michelangelo’s David. The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.”

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La Dama de Elche. Persephone’s thigh where Pluto clutches it in the Bernini. The right hand of Michelangelo’s David. The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.

–David Markson, Reader’s Block.

The Cyclops — Odilon Redon

“The Chief Seat of Lycanthropy Was Arcadia”

It is to be observed that the chief seat of Lycanthropy was Arcadia, and it has been very plausibly suggested that the cause might he traced to the following circumstance:–The natives were a pastoral people, and would consequently suffer very severely from the attacks and depredations of wolves. They would naturally institute a sacrifice to obtain deliverance from this pest, and security for their flocks. This sacrifice consisted in the offering of a child, and it was instituted by Lycaon. From the circumstance of the sacrifice being human, and from the peculiarity of the name of its originator, rose the myth.

From Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-Wolves (1865)


“At Christmas a boy lame of a leg goes round the country summoning the devil’s followers, who are countless, to a general conclave . . . and the whole multitude become wolves.”

At Christmas a boy lame of a leg goes round the country summoning the devil’s followers, who are countless, to a general conclave. Whoever remains behind, or goes reluctantly, is scourged by another with an iron whip till the blood flows, and his traces are left in blood. The human form vanishes, and the whole multitude become wolves. Many thousands assemble. Foremost goes the leader armed with an iron whip, and the troop follow, “firmly convinced in their imaginations that they are transformed into wolves.” They fall upon herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, but they have no power to slay men. When they come to a river, the leader smites the water with his scourge, and it divides, leaving a dry path through the midst, by which the pack may go. The transformation lasts during twelve days, at the expiration of which period the wolf-skin vanishes, and the human form reappears. This superstition was expressly forbidden by the church. “Credidisti, quod quidam credere solent, ut illæ quæ a vulgo Parcæ vocantur, ipsæ, vel sint vel possint hoc facere quod creduntur, id est, dum aliquis homo nascitur, et tunc valeant illum designare ad hoc quod velint, ut quandocunque homo ille voluerit, in lupum transformari possit, quod vulgaris stultitia, werwolf vocat, aut in aliam aliquam figuram?”–Ap. Burchard. (d. 1024).

From Sabine Baring-Gould’s marvelous volume The Book of Were-Wolves (1865).

“Mediæval mythology, rich and gorgeous, is a compound like Corinthian brass”

Mediæval mythology, rich and gorgeous, is a compound like Corinthian brass, into which many pure ores have been fused, or it is a full turbid river drawn from numerous feeders, which had their sources in remote climes. It is a blending of primæval Keltic, Teutonic, Scandinavian, Italic, and Arab traditions, each adding a beauty, each yielding a charm, bat each accretion rendering the analysis more difficult. Pacciuchelli says:–“The Anio flows into the Tiber; pure as crystal it meets the tawny stream, and is lost in it, so that there is no more Anio, but the united stream is all Tiber.” So is it with each tributary to the tide of mediæval mythology. The moment it has blended its waters with the great and onward rolling flood, it is impossible to detect it with certainty; it has swollen the stream, but has lost its own identity. If we would analyse a particular myth, we must not go at once to the body of mediæval superstition, but strike at one of the tributaries before its absorption.

From Sabine Baring-Gould’s marvelous volume The Book of Were-Wolves (1865).

“There Is a Polish Story of a Witch Who Made a Girdle of Human Skin”

From Sabine Baring-Gould’s indispensable work Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (1866):

There is a Polish story of a witch who made a girdle of human skin and laid it across the threshold of a door where a marriage-feast was being held. On the bridal pair stepping across the girdle they were transformed into wolves. Three years after the witch sought them out, and cast over them dresses of fur with the hair turned outward, whereupon they recovered their human forms, but, unfortunately, the dress cast over the bridegroom was too scanty, and did not extend over his tail, so that, when he was restored to his former condition, he retained his lupine caudal appendage, and this became hereditary in his family; so that all Poles with tails are lineal descendants of the ancestor to whom this little misfortune happened.

Derrida Talks About the Myth of Echo and Narcissus

Cerberus — William Blake

Head of Medusa — Peter Paul Rubens

Saturn Devouring His Son — Peter Paul Rubens

Where the World Navel Intersects the Threshold of Adventure

the threshold of adventure_john barth

Hey you. Yeah, you. Were you the guy that borrowed my copy of John Barth’s Chimera and never had enough human compassion/decency to return it? No? Not you? Never mind. I picked up another copy last weekend specifically for the diagram above (I also wanted to re-read “Perseid.”) Now that I look at it again, I’m not sure that it’s so much enlightening as it is mystifying. In any case, it’s an intriguing bit of navel gazing. Fun stuff.

The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood


The Odyssey has long been my go-to example for phallocentric literature in the high school classes I teach. The story of wily Odysseus and his crew wandering the high seas for a decade after the Trojan War prototypifies a literature of masculine fantasy full of adventure, intrigue, and romance. While Odysseus explores the world, bedding nymphs and witches and having every kind of adventure with his boys, his wife Penelope is at home, faithful and chaste, raising kid Telemachus and keeping the would-be usurpers at bay. In short, the story of Odysseus licenses an entire tradition of phallocentric literature wherein the clever protagonist is able to duck familial and social duty and have a great adventure in the process. Think of Huck lighting out for the territory. Same deal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But as Margaret Atwood saliently demonstrates in The Penelopiad, her reworking of The Odyssey, there’s always another side to that story of masculine escape–and a price to that adventure, as well.

As its title suggests, The Penelopiad tells the story from the perspective of Penelope, a plain but clever girl, who–like Odysseus–must learn to live by her wits. Atwood, working from several myths, details Penelope’s divine parentage (she’s half-naiad), and her upbringing as a young maid in her father’s home. In an early key scene, Penelope’s father supposedly (the details are fuzzy, she admits) tries to murder her by drowning her, after learning that she will weave his shroud. This infanticide echoes the story of Oedipus, and also serves as a dominant motif throughout the story (it’s also twinned with a motif of eating meat–Penelope remarks at one point that she is just “meat” to be eaten). As the story progresses, young, shy Penelope slowly transforms from a naive gal with a chip on her shoulder about her preternaturally beautiful cousin, Helen, into a woman as wily as Odysseus himself. Atwood treats us to Penelope’s inner thoughts on all sorts of subjects, and even though Penelope claims to love Odysseus, it’s repeatedly clear how angry she is at not only him, but also her son.

While Penelope’s story is dominant, Atwood is very concerned with Penelope’s twelve maids, orphaned servants slain by Odysseus and Telemachus after Odysseus’ return. The maids serve as a chorus, interjecting their voice in short chapters written in a variety of styles, ranging from epic poetry to sea shanties to short skits. One of the most fascinating choral sections plays as an anthropological seminar, in which Atwood’s maids suggest that the real story of Odysseus and Penelope is in fact the displacement of a matriarchy by a wandering warrior. There’s also an inspired court scene where Odysseus is tried for killing the suitors, and the maids sue for justice.

Ultimately, Atwood paints the maids, poor orphans and slaves, as the real victims in this ancient tale. While Penelope complains that she is treated as “meat,” Atwood makes it clear that it’s really the maids who are treated as mere flesh to be consumed–slaves forced to clean, bodies subjected to repeated rapes. And while Penelope repeatedly expresses sorrow and dismay for the murder of the maids, complaining that their deaths were a result of tragic miscommunication, the maids have a different story to tell–one that ironizes much of what Penelope has to say. As the story progresses, we are frequently reminded by Penelope herself that she is a liar and storyteller on par with Odysseus and because of this insight we begin to realize that there might be something to some of the slanderous rumors she’s been protesting in her narrative. It would’ve been simple for Atwood to give Penelope a straightforward and strong voice, a voice that communicated the virtue classically identified with Penelope along with a feminist slant of insight. Instead, Atwood’s Penelope is far more complex and human, gossipy and spiteful, sympathetic and ripe for contempt. The Penelopiad ironizes not only The Odyssey (and the phallocentric literary tradition after it), but also itself; its a book that complicates our notions of history, memory, and identity, and it does so in ways both playful and profound. Highly recommended.

Icarus Falls, No Big Deal

“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by William Carlos Williams

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

“Musée de Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Mythologies–Roland Barthes

“Myth is a language”–Roland Barthes

Everyone should own a copy of Roland BarthesMythologies. Published over 50 years ago, the book seems more relevant than ever. Barthes wields his sense of ironic humor like a scalpel, dissecting the ideological abuse of the post-war spectacle society. In this collection of short essays, Barthes examines the ways in which societies create, use and mediate myths–particularly the way that the “elite,” monied crust of society create new myths–whole systems of myths, really–to control cultural perceptions of “reality.” Barthes uses the language and tools of linguistics in his meditations to examine the malleable space between the signifier and the signified.  Barthes analyzes a range of disparate topics: amateur wrestling, plastic, advertisements for milk and wine, the face of Greta Garbo, children’s toys, and modern film’s conception of the ancient Roman haircut are all considered in relation to how these “everyday” things support the dominant cultural/economic ideology. The methods put forth in  Mythologies are certainly a precursor to what we now call popular culture studies; Barthes is certainly one of the first writers I can think of to dissect mass-mediated, popular culture. And even though it was published half a century ago, Barthes’ keenly ironic style and short-essay format comes across as thoroughly contemporary.

In the final essay of the collection, “Myth Today,” Barthes warns us that the myths we uphold to protect our culture can ultimately destroy the culture. What are the contemporary myth-systems of the United States? What ideology do these myths uphold? Do these myths hold the potential to harm the culture of our great country?