Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Re-Enchantment (Cultural Trends-Part 2)

Originally posted on January 4, 2011

This continues a reflection on “whassup?”—what cultural trends we may be in the midst of. I wrote in a previous blog about the emergence of creativity.

Another trend, I think, is towards what I call re-enchantment, or perhaps a more precise (and non-existent) term might be re-mythologize-ation. (what a mouthful!).  It marks a swing back from a mainstream trend to only validating the objectively demonstrable as real, and we’ve needed this re-balancing.

Enchantment was for a while associated with superstition and old-fashioned modes of religion, politics (aristocracy, feudalism), and other out-of-fashion social norms. In its place was the illusion that there really exists a world free of illusion, and that we can and should strive to reach this goal, to discover objective (out-there not in-here) truth. This has been a theme of the modern world, but it is based on a false dichotomy, a false understanding of the nature of mythic thinking—which is not mere superstition, but rather poetry.

There are some things—many things—that are closer to the heart and cannot be adequately described in merely factual terms. Love and tenderness, cute, various aspects of beauty—the kinds of stuff that give meaning and depth to life. The left-brain, rational, analytic, reductionistic, mainly materialist functions have been having a two-century run and they’ve offered innumerable advances, advantages, and also unintended consequences. Science has spawned scient-ism, a word that refers to the way people treat science as the final source of wisdom. This is an over-generalization that suffers under the illusion that science can solve problems that are not in its proper domain. (I think it was Abraham Maslow who first observed that “people who only know how to use a hammer tend to treat everything as if it were a nail.)

The romantic movement of the early 19th century never went away, and flared up again here and there in literature. More recently, though, it has emerged in the formats of science fiction and fantasy. Once the province of nerds in the 1950s, these forms have become blockbuster movie hits, television programs, and mainstream trends. Peter Pan’s “Tinkerbelle” has generated a whole new genre of faeries and sprites for children to imagine. This trend, which also involves the cultural dynamic of re-owning myth, could offer innumerable other examples.

Myth used to be something that other cultures had. We had our beliefs, which was a word that was not fully differentiated from convictions. Beliefs were good, were associated with Faith (with a capital letter)—a word that combined both religious belief and also optimism. (However, it should be noted that faith need not involve any particular belief!) Myth, on the other hand, was imagined (falsely) to be inherently untrue, often quaint, or tainted with the cultural judgment of seeming bizarre.

In the last fifty years, with the help of Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, who was in turn stimulated by the innovative analytical psychology of Dr. Carl Jung, it became increasingly clear that Western culture, the heights of what is imagined as civilization, is riddled with myth as much as any primitive tribe. People may be sincere in lack of ability to recognize the plethora of irrational inconsistencies in their own pervasive beliefs—social, political, educational, economic, scientific, and other domains, as well as of course religious, but this non-recognition is in another sense hypocritical. Illusions are being challenged in all these domains at an accelerating rate.

Meanwhile, to counter the dilution and decay of fixed illusions and myths, there are many who are constructing new myths, seeking new meanings. Contemplating current trends revisits this theme, also. Many seem to be drifting into the popular myths provided by the mass media, as well as other distractions and addictions, generating a type of passive numbing that Neil Postman described in his 1985 book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” However, there are many others who are creating new possibilities, new mythic complexes. (They may not be aware they’re doing this; most think they’re just telling a good story, but some catch on, become “memes,” and influence the culture to varying degrees.)  I’ve created some myths in papers on my website. They are recognized as creative speculations, but they offer food for thought.

In blogs to follow, I’ll post some further contemporary trends.

One Response to “Re-Enchantment (Cultural Trends-Part 2)”

  • Terry Teaters says:

    I loved the article and I could not agree more. I have found the use of magic and mythological archetypes to be powerful methods for exploring the deep soul. Being able to set ritual space is a key skill. My wife Amy is exploring these issues in her M.F.A. program.

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