DOES MODERN MAN NEED MYTH?

Rollo May

(The year of this audiotape was 1968 and the discussants at the Wine Cellar, moderated by Wolf Zucker, were Rollo May, Harvey Cox and Joseph Campbell.  May’s ideas are lifted out here.  He is speaking about the change in the patient when mythology and symbolism enliven their dialogue.)                                               

This is a  dialogue, more than an individual psyche.  This is a creation, as the patient begins to discover a creation of mythology and symbolism. Then his interpsychic process begins to get a power.  Now before that, it was empty, and it is an amazing thing to see this happen.  Right there in  the office,  a psychic being is being born on the couch.  And from then on,  I get opposed;  I don’t  get bowed to, I get a creative wrestling.  This is an amazing, enriching feeling for an analyst.  

Now what does this mythology consist of?   In our day, it consists of the scientific point of view, which cannot be left out without a defiance of the culture--that is , I think, sickness from another angle--but I mean the scientific point of view that is no longer an impoverished rationalism.  Whenever I get  impoverished  rationalism in a patient at the beginning of psychoanalysis, I know I am in for a hell of a long, hard job.  It describes the alienated personality of our day who thinks he knows by his head.   I’ve decided that nobody does, and that has to be broken down.  Often that is attended by quite a catastrophe.   But then comes the language that speaks from the patient’s  deeper levels, a mythology (what Joe calls “image” and I think  it is what you call, Dr. Cox, “comic sense”). I see it  all through  modern art,  as in Waiting for Godot--exactly what my patients go through.

The new mythology seems to require an objectivity, a capacity not to require the universe  to be amenable to our prejudices.   It requires a humility, a modesty, which I think is the  spiritual aspect of science that I wouldn’t give up.  You find this in Freud , all sorts of  comic ways.  Freud tried to be a scientist, but he never could; he always brought in a mythology, which saved him from  the impoverishment of mechanization.  I think my patients and I,  and we, are in the process of developing a new mythology that will include the objectivity of science and will add the openness of the irrational (here is the richness of creativity), forming a view of life which is characterized by a trust.  These things are hard to combine, but it has to be done.  I have to give myself over to the irrational and take a chance I won’t be destroyed by it.   I associate this with a good deal of eastern thought.   Maybe one should call it transrational.

Thirdly, mythology has to have a new personalism in it.  A characteristic of our society is that  nobody can love each other.   In the process of becoming objective,  we have lost our capacity to love.    And we make weird noises about it.

Now I would hope that images , symbols and myths--and  I see them coming, myself, or so I believe--have those three aspects:   We will have a mythology that won’t be anti-scientific and  will allow the universe to be what it is;  it will include the transrational, the creative;  and it will help persons love each other.

 

 

             

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