Myth and Meaning in the Digital Age

This entry is by way of a response to Ruthless Culture’s Calvinball Mythologies post.

In the West we have been less ready to look where eastern myth has looked and disconnect this looking from the mythic and call it instead ‘horror’. The Goddess Kali is both beautiful and terrifying. The energies that make matter are beyond the soft flesh that considers them. They rip and tear, and in todays parlance when going over the edge of an event horizon there is no surviving it – it is proposed in that myth that the forces distort the water bag that you fundamentally are, completely out of shape then your particles come apart. Kali both embraces and rips apart. In Western mythology we just do the cuddly god and all the rest is horror (or respect in Yahweh’s case – but it’s fear really).

With the film Prometheus it raises both the arguments around form and content as I said before – the gift from the gods destroys us so therefore we consider the gift as being void of gift-ness and therefore empty – but also the argument around the issue of ubiquitous-ness previously brought up by Baudrillard and Virillio. I can’t agree that high level flow as exemplified by the internet (or ubiquitous-ness) is inherently devoid of meaning as proposed by these two (and others). Years ago I wrote to Channel 4 to ask for some money to answer their position (as put in John Wyvers ‘L’Objet d’art a la’age electronique’). Channel 4 gave me the money and I argued the position against meaningless-ubiquity through citing myth. I argued that myth is what we do, stories are what we tell and reinterpretation is the vehicle for change and re-evaluation. The specific myth I used was that of Echo and Narcissus because I could see how their entrapment by the pool: whilst Narcissus spoke to his own image, Echo tells him she loves him placing her meaning in his words as an echo asks him to please disconnect and turn to her, is reinforced as a feedback loop as Narcissus hears instead his own reflection telling him that it loves him. The agency in this is Nemesis who simply administers justice by setting a rule: that Narcissus who has wronged someone else should fall in love with the first person he sees (i.e. his own self, via the reflective avatar he sees before him). Prior to that point Narcissus cannot experience love for another as he is obsessively in love with his own self. The relevance today of a myth like that is that Narcissus and Echo are the timeline of sound and image, of final cut pro, avid and premier – we utilise their captured and bound state daily to make films.

Taking part in myth is the socialized position where the individual is the only agency that can attribute meaning – in this case by sharing a language of understanding in the values embodied by myth. For instance, the profoundly democratic position of the hero who serves the greater good and sacrifices themselves so that all can benefit – Lucifer and Prometheus for instance. The hero not only demonstrates admirable behaviour to be copied by society, not only offers the individual self for the greater good, they offer a connection between our own agency and the energies that are ‘above us’. Each gesture of the hero is to take something from the privileged other. Our fathers and mothers – the gods – are privy to something we are not and our teenage selves, the heroes and heroines – have to rebel, disempower and then redistribute. However, in every myth, no demi-god or hero ever gets away with the gesture and there is a constraint refrain of punishment if you steal. The implication is that you have to earn the knowledge yourself and not receive it as stolen goods.

And of course in that contract we affect a group amnesia about what the hero did and in fact join in with his or her castigation and ostracism. The point however is that we individually decide whether or not we are going to gain some kind of nutrition or sustenance from the myth. It is us as individuals that are going to validate it.

So to me, ubiquitous-ness need not be devoid of meaning and left bank thinkers pulled a fast one with their Up Pompeii ‘Oh Woe is me’ clarion call to the pessimists amongst us to fear what was happening.

Digitality is what is happening and we are coming close to an understanding of what it actually might be rather than via out prior re-mediated attempts at understanding it through the filter of the analogue. So – don’t despair at apparent meaninglessness, it’s a very important condition prior to meaningful-ness.


About terryflaxton

I began as a musician and artist, discovered photography and film, left college moved to sound, came back to image at university, then moving image. Left college once more, ran a facilities company in Soho whilst making art. Began making television programmes as director, writer, producer, cinematographer and editor - whilst making art. Then spent 15 years as a cinematographer - whilst making art. Joined academia and wrote - whilst making art. You get the idea...
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One Response to Myth and Meaning in the Digital Age

  1. Pingback: Calvinball Mythology: The Inevitable Follow-up Post « Ruthless Culture

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