EGR/MB: pseudologia fantastica

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Christopher Locke

Apr 27, 2009, 9:49:45 AM4/27/09
to EGR googleplex

there must be some way out of here
said the joker to the thief.
there's too much confusion
I cant get no relief.

dylan ~ all along the watchtower

From the Pseudologia fantastica entry on Wikipedia:

Pseudologia fantastica, mythomania, or pathological lying, is one of several terms applied by psychiatrists to the behaviour of habitual or compulsive lying. It was first described in the medical literature in 1891.
I ended the last one (Liar Liar 3: The Myth of Myth) by saying: "Lying turns out to be a central theme and major mode for the Mystic Bourgeoisie, even if they call it their 'Mythic Journey,' which is where we'll pick it up next time." Those of you who actually click on the links, know that that one went to Your Mythic Journey: Finding Meaning in Your Life Through Writing and Storytelling by Sam Keen. Ring a fire in your belly? No? Well, there's Sam on the right, looking for all the world like Quasimodo, the old bell-ringer himself. Say hello to the folks, Sam, you old fraud. Are you ready for your close-up?

OK, let's start with this clip from the intro to your interview at EnlightenNext (formerly What Is Enlightenment? magazine) Issue #16, Fall–Winter 1999; issue theme: "How Free Do We Really Want to Be?"

...[Keen] has authored over a dozen books and has for years been a prominent figure in the American human potential movement. It was through his experiences leading workshops at Esalen Institute, as a contributing editor for Psychology Today, and as cofounder of a men's group called SPERM (Society for the Protection and Encouragement of Righteous Manhood) that he began to formulate many of the ideas that would fill the pages of his books.
Which explains why those pages tend to stick together.

In the middle of an interview that is so cranky and boring at the same time that your ears might start to bleed, Keen says something that sounds as if it might actually be true.

So much of my approach is the effort to go beyond mythology to autobiography, to take my own story and the uniqueness of my own situation, my own gifts and my own wounds, with a kind of ultimate seriousness.
Interesting that he distances himself from both gender issues ("get over it") and Jung ("I don't like Jungianism -- just like I detest the idea of archetypes."). He made a bundle on the former, and invokes Jung -- as does his mentor Campbell -- whenever he finds it convenient, which is often. For instance, on Keen's current website, in a directory inexplicably titled... the section on "Your Life, Your Story: Composing an Autobiography," right after where he says that human beings are "biomythic animals," there's this...

Carl Jung once said that the most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living? In the degree that we remember and retell our stories and create new ones we become the authors, the author/ities, of our own lives.
Too right. You probably didn't know this about me, but I have totally reinvented myself as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The photo of Keen, above, comes from Yoga Journal November-December issue, 1994, pp. 114-116. (btw, monster kudos to Google for putting magazine archives online!) The article is titled "What My Book Is Not About," the book in question being Hymns to an Unknown God: Awakening The Spirit In Everyday Life. This appears opposite a cheesy ad for two Deepak Chopra books: Restful Sleep and Perfect Weight. Evidently, things the book is not about include angels, UFOs, miracles, out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, self-esteem, and "prophesy" [sic].

It is not even about what my dear friend Joseph Campbell talks about in Hero's Journey, where he writes that we go into the forest where it is the darkest, and each goes alone, since It would be a shame to go in a group.

A shame, yes how true. But note that Keen has cleverly touched on all the magic hot buttons that readers of Yoga Journal in 1994 -- and perhaps even more so today -- are most likely to care about.

After devoting at least half the article to such disclaimers, Keen then says, well OK, he can tell us a little about what the book is about. "The book is in some ways about forming a spiritual bullshit detector," he writes. But only in some ways, right, Sam? Because if your intended audience had working bullshit detectors, they'd never read your crap in the first place. So: moderation in all things. A little detecting, a little bullshit. A little detecting, a little more bullshit. Rinse and repeat.

Publishers Weekly says of Hymns to an Unknown God...

Defining the quest to unlock spirituality as "the reverse of the religious pilgrimage," bestselling author Sam Keen (Fire in the Belly) nonetheless sets out immediately to blend Eastern and Western religious traditions with philosophy, psychology and autobiography. The result is a New Age-ish "now-and-then spiritual journey" whose indirect path may result in confusion for questers seeking less amorphous guidance.
But Publishers Weekly clearly doesn't get it. On your mythic journey, indirection is the path; amorphous confusion the shining goal.

In the opening bars of Your Mythic Journey, we learn two salient facts. First (p. iii), the book was published by Jeremy P. Tarcher, who was responsible for more New Age books than Jesus Christ, Buddha and Lao Tzu, combined. (btw, Tarcher was married to Shari Lewis, so it's possible that the ontological devolution we've been exploring here, lo these many years now, was a plot hatched by Lambchop. After all, ask yourself: is this the real life or is this just fantasy?)

Second (p. iv), it is dedicated to Joseph Campbell, whose name will appear again and again in such books. Such books being those about how to make the lesser argument appear the greater. The lesser being the random-ass concatenation of cruel jokes and unconscionable misjudgments that constitutes your personal history. The greater being the same set of raw materials magically reformulated into the shining saga of a hero or goddess able to leap tall buildings at a single bound, patch up the crack in the Liberty Bell, or fearlessly lead a locust-hoard of God-fearing White People Westward. You go, girl!

John Gast's 1872 painting, American Progress, is but one reminder that America is no stranger to heroes and heroines, gods and goddesses got up to serve the interests of the prevailing ideological drift. A bit further back, we have the glee of Henry David Thoreau that his family took its name from that of a Norse god.

But back to Sam & Joe. Note that Keen's Your Mythic Journey (1973) came out barely a year after Campbell's Myths We Live By (1972). Much later, Jean Houston -- another Campbell protege -- wrote A Mythic Life: Learning to Live Our Greater Story, with a foreword by Mary Catherine Bateson, author of Composing a Life. Houston also wrote an introduction to The Mythic Path: Discovering the Guiding Stories of Your Past, Creating a Vision for Your Future by David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner (Tarcher/Putnam, 1997). That book begins with "An Invitation: Renew the Dream That Quickens Your Spirit" (p. 3)...

Your personal mythology is the loom on which you weave the raw materials of daily experience into a coherent story. You live your life from within this mythology, drawing to yourself the characters and creating the scenes that correspond with its guiding theme.

There is no end of references to the power of mythic hogwash. But as this is the fourth installment of the "Liar Liar" series, perhaps at this point I should back up and talk about why all this is important. Why I think it's important.

In my previous post (Liar Liar 3: The Myth of Myth), I suggested that the powerful attraction of Jung -- Eliade depended on him, as did Campbell and so many others since -- is based not just on his notions about archetypes and the collective unconscious, but on something much more seductive that those two constructs enable: "individuation."

By individuation, Jung meant the creation of a real Self (he usually capitalized it) balanced between individual subjectivity -- the waking personal conscious -- and the Collective Unconscious (he capitalized that too) -- a transpersonal layer of racially acquired experience. (Yes, the reference to race is problematic -- as has been Jung's entire theory, for the same reason.)

Henry David Thoreau, who was wrong about so many things, was right when he said most people lead lives of quiet desperation. At least some of the time. I have felt that way. You have felt that way. Let us not talk falsely now. And the desperation is to get out of the terrible suffocation of being imprisoned within a miniscule inarticulate repetitive and hugely boring subjectivity. There must be some way out of here.

By the way, dropping allusions to Dylan here is more germane than you might guess. His song, "All Along the Watchtower," is based on one of the most obscure prophets of the Old Testament...

  • I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.
  • And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.

Habakkuk, 2:1-2, King James Version

In brief, word on the street was that some ill-intentioned horde of barbarians was bearing down on some minor king's minor kingdom in some long forgotten desert where more recent barbarities are now making headlines. So this king asked God what to do. Should I stay or should I go sorta thing. And God, in His ineffable effing way, said hang loose, King, I'll get back to you. Put sentries on your watchtowers and I'll send you a sign.

Except He never did.

For this reason, Sunday sermons based on the book of Habakkuk tend to get rather convoluted rather quickly. Two riders were approaching. Or they weren't. Or... well, let's kick around what God might have been thinking.

A favorite human pastime.

Which brings us back to Jung. And to the larger context within which Jung, by his own occasional admission, was embedded: gnosticism. Let's leave aside for the moment the fact that some scholars in the field of Religious Studies have suggested that gnosticism is such a vague and historically slippery concept that it has no real meaning at all. See for instance, Rethinking "Gnosticism": An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category (Princeton University Press, 1996). As a class, the Mystic Bourgeoisie has constructed itself of just such nebulous and ultimately meaningless categories. So what else is new?

The gnostic category Jung gave us was the capital-S Self, and a method by which it could "shop" itself together, i.e., individuation. Think a sort of spiritual Photoshopping. Think rag and bone shop of the heart.

The shop window is the collective unconscious, another questionable category, but let's let that one slide too. Think Macy's windows at Christmastime in New York, the lights, the snow, the tinkling sublunary music of the spheres. Everyone in love, everything sorta magical. Sorta mythic.

Kinda like a drug. Like ecstasy maybe. Like whatever drives away quiet desperation. Take only as directed.

And here are the directions. Stroll up and down looking at the pretty archetypes in the shop windows. The Empress, the Goddess, the Good Witch of the East, the oracle@delphi. But of course, not all are so pretty. There's the Warrior, the King, the Sorcerer, the Magician. Those are for the boys. And don't worry, if you're lesbian, there's Sappho, if you're gay, there's Pan. And so on. Point being: something for everyone and not half boring! Not in the least desperate. In fact, when you get right down to it, really rather Sacred.

And who wouldn't want to trade in their ho-hum subjectivity for a gung-ho archetypicality or two?

Actually, Jung himself warned about this. He warned of psychic inflation, infection, of "invasion" from the unconscious. Sounds dire, doesn't it? Like "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers," like "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Aba Gort. Klaatu barada nikto!

Jung wasn't kidding, though. He had first-hand experience of such invasions and possessions. Serious business. No laughing matter.

But note also how close such warnings sound to those of the side-show barker. Ladies and Gentlemen, don't get too close! This Beast from the Dark Jungles of Africa will shock you. It will challenge your most cherished beliefs! Don't come inside unless you are sound of body and pure of heart! Only for the brave, courageous and bold!

Such "warnings" sell a lot of tickets.

So you step right up and buy yours for the Gnostic Individuation ride. Show your girl you're no chicken, dammit. Show that guy you're no dum-dum!

I weep for you.

Because yes, life is boring a lot of the time. Not as exciting as you thought it'd be. The wife, the kids. The husband, the job. Is that all there is? Midway on life's journey, your desperation boils over, and no Virgil in sight. Because Stoneman's cavalry came and tore up the tracks again. Yeah, that's it, that's probably why.

Virgil Kane is the name
and I served on the Danville train...

The Band ~ The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Or wait. Corn in the fields... Maybe Virgil reincarnated as Carlos Castaneda or Don Miguel Ruiz or Sri Aurobindo or Ram Dass or Deepak Chopra. Listen to the rice as the wind blows 'cross the water... One-a those foreigners with the funny names. One-a them vaguely Oriental types. King Harvest will surely come!

You're individuating now, baby! See? All you needed was a little help, a little expert direction. A Guide, a Guru, a Master.

Step right up.

Stroll by the window displays. Pick yourself a cool archetype, a knowing goddess, a fearless champion. And rework the story of your life so it works out that that's really you. The real you. The realer than real you. Your True Self.


You're on your mythic journey now, just like Sam Keen promised. You got your mythic image, just like Joe Campbell said. You're a Hero, a Heroine.

Or maybe you're on a particularly addictive form of heroin. Maybe you're shitting yourself blind.

Mystic Bourgeoisie is a history of professional liars, side-show barkers who, for hundreds of years, have promised to help you find a more mythical, mystical story for your life. A deeper meaning. A higher purpose. A better soundtrack.

Scarecrow and a yellow moon
and pretty soon a carnival on the edge of town.
King Harvest has surely come.

The Band ~ King Harvest

Posted By Doctor X to
mystic bourgeoisie at 4/27/2009 07:42:00 AM

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