Birth and Essence of the Modern Myth (III)

Far from eliminating myths, modernity, starting from the Enlightenment, introduced a new series of myths. Traditional myths were intended to lead men beyond words and thoughts, to a realization in the silence, the brilliant light of transcendence. Instead, the myths of modernity are grey; rather than awakening to superconscious reality, the modern myths can only arouse the subconscious and subrational forces. This is part III of IV:

For the symmetry existing between the superrational and the subrational, in this new collectivistic climate the myth gets a new life. As in primordial times, today the myth, more than the idea or the concept, goes from the directing center to the new forces. But its structure and function today, naturally, are totally different. The myth in recent times appears as a simple image deprived of the metaphysical and superrational potentiality that it had traditionally, exaggerated instead in its mere aspect of “force-image”, i.e., of an image that on one hand hypnotizes the higher faculty of the conscious personality of individuals, and on the other, dynamizes the energy belonging to the passionate, irrational, and subterranean part of their being. The modern myth corresponds precisely to the critical stage, in which the lucent peaks of the superworld were lost in the grey distance, in which the same dogmatic and sentimental surrogates proposed by positive religions [=a religion with a historical founder] have lost their strength, in which the mirages of rationalism are revealed in their fundamental inconsistency, yet an unbearable tension weights on individuals; therefore an authoritative need of a discharge ecstatically freeing itself from the weight and limit constituted by their Self and exalting itself in great collective currents. The myth releases this function. It is an illusory center that permits the discharge of this tension because, so to say, it is substituted for the Self. Precisely saturating itself with an attractive power and becoming “force-image”, it acquires not only an appearance of truth and absolute validity, but in the end almost its own autonomous life, which often substituted for the personality of their evokers. In brief, we repeat greatly the same process through which, for the hypnotized, the image proposed by the hypnotizer becomes true, independently of every one of its contents and the Self of the hypnotized, his mind, his senses enter into a state of absolute passivity in the face of it, while from the corporal subconscious profound forces surface also capable of extra-normal effects.

If it is at this rate necessary to measure the inconceivable dynamic spread among the modern masses from the myths, the multitudes fall into a serious error, when they believe that they have in the face of a manifestation of positive vital force and a sign of spiritual rebirth. Once the energetic side is eliminated, it can be said without paradox that the substance of the modern myth is exactly that which the century of the Enlightenment supposed in the ancient myth, believing that the ancient myth is reduced to a fairytale, and fantastic images and to personified abstractions, and that such a myth, which previously never existed, even today takes on life.

In fact, the domain of myth in modern times is quite far from being restricted only to the ethical and social fields. Science, Evolution, Positive Method, Historicity, Objectivity and so on, in the intellectual fields are in fact superstitious myths when Democracy, Liberty, Popular Sovereignty, Progress, Civilization, Race, Universal Peace, the New Age, the Worldwide Revolution, and all the other great substantialized words, and written emphatically with capital letters, which have played so much a part in the social life of the last century and are the center of irrational crystallizations of very powerful currents. Therefore, for what concerns their internal content, modern myths, more than myths, should be called fairytales. Etymologically the term fable, from fari, indicates exactly a mere speaking, the word without a necessary reference to a content: while we saw that the term mythos included in itself the idea of an abolition of the word and the idea of a silent and essential realization. On this basis, we can say that if there is an age of fairytales, it is not that of the ancient mythologies, but the current age, in spite of its presumed positivism.

On the contrary, we can point out that even the so-called positive spirits are those who more ingenuously succumb to myths, accepting as truth ideas that are less than shaky hypotheses, as much instead suggestions from the environment. The evolutionist myth, which one knows the part it had in recent science, belongs to this type. The same can be said of the myth of the unconscious of recent psychology, of the myth of modern civilization as crown and end of every civilization in the domain of historiography, a myth that has devastated every right vision of our past, and so we could continue a long time. Naturally, we are ready to concede that there are types in the social area among some modern myths—for example, the myth of the super-race, the myth of empire, the myth of return to the origins, etc.—that would be susceptible of a higher content and meaning. But we point out that it is not in the least for this possibility that such myths today have value and operate, but rather uniquely for their suggestive capacity, through their capacity to offer a point of support for the ecstatic liberation of the personality and for the discharge of irrational and subpersonal powers of the collective psyche.

Thus from a higher point of view, one myth is equivalent to another, there are not any among the modern myths that are susceptible to produce a true reconstruction or rather even only to serve as its base, since already the simple condition, by which any myth whatsoever can act on the individual, represents a negative and paralyzing condition. On the other hand it would be rather easy to show that even in the cases in which the modern myth is not reduced to simple words, outside of which there is no reality, and to pure hypnotizing images, the higher elements contained in this type of myth undergo a fundamental deformation, for which the concrete result is an action opposed to that which normally such elements should produce. Finally, we already pointed out that the analogy with the phenomena of suggestions, or the emergence of profound, sometimes materially supernormal, forces is the counterpart of the collapse of the personality and momentary paralysis of the conscious faculties, that this analogy permits us to judge, in accordance with their true significance, the extraordinary capacity of impetus, courage, enthusiasm, sacrifice and dedication which the masses often have demonstrated under the strength of myths. We noted that these capacities can deceive the superficial observer and make him believe that he sees a phenomenon of rebirth, of spiritual revival, and of new youth: while it is a question of the last apparitions in a cycle of decadence, of the hidden flood of spiritually destructive elementary forces after the fall of our hierarchical and traditional edifice, they are deprived of every true center and push men and things in the most unpredictable directions.

⇐ Part II   Part IV ⇒

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